India’s Purav Raja and Divij Sharan have emerged as a force on the ATP Challenger this season by winning four doubles titles and getting inside top-70 but lack of recognition for their achievements in their own country has left them a bit disappointed as they seek a change in perception for the doubles exponents of the game.
Raja and left-hander Sharan won the Pune Challenger two days back and before that they had triumphed in Segovia, Surbiton and Manchester.
Not only this, they clinched an ATP 250 title in Mexico (Los Cabos) and made semifinals in Atlanta, Gstaad and Newport events on the World Tour, gaining more than 1200 points each in the current calendar.
Apart from them, only one team — Matt Reid and John-Patrick Smith — has managed to win four Challenger level titles together. Four teams won three titles.
Singles players always get more prominence but they feel there should not be any discrimination.
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“We are not hungry to be in limelight. We are simple, but there’s evidence that nobody knows we are ranked 60 in the world. Outside (India), if you are 60-70, people know and support you. They will give you whatever you want. They understand your achievements. But in India, not many people know so you can’t blame them. We have played 6-7 Finals this season,” Raja, ranked 66, told PTI in an interaction.
“Tennis players should be respected for what they do. I don’t think one should be given bigger (respect/help) than the other and one should be given less than the other. To make a living out of tennis, you have to be a very very good player, whether it’s singles or doubles,” he said.
Sharan, who hails from Delhi, added, “Sometimes it (lack of acknowledgment) obviously hurts. May be it will not be treated at par but (respect) would make us feel better.”
Playing semifinals of Tour events is as good as winning Challenger in terms of points and they have done that.
“If someone had told us that we will finish the year at 60, when we were sitting outside 150 at the beginning of the year, we would have taken it gladly, we have made thousand or 1200 points in this period. if you look back logically, it has been a very successful year,” Raja said summing up the season.
Asked how they have evolved as a team after joining forces for the second time, Sharan said they have changed tactics a lot.
“We play different formations. Our positioning and volleying is our strength, so tactically we are doing a lot better. It’s better understanding of doubles. We know our strengths better and whatever we have learnt we have put everything together and it shows in the results,” Sharan, who plays on deuce side of the court, said.
Raja added they are much more “aggressive than we have ever been”.
“We are playing a lot more ‘Eye-Formation’ to help us out, we are beating a lot of teams from baseline. We do the same thing over and over again. We can’t cover everything on the court. It’s a mathematical probability that we are trying to work out a formula to get more and more points, doing same stuff. He is a specialist on Deuce court and I am comfortable at the Ad-court. It’s a good combination of touch and power.”
Sharan said they were capable enough to challenge the big teams on the Tour but they need to do it more consistently.
“We have played higher-ranked teams and beaten them. It’s more about how we can play bigger tournaments, which have more points. We would now fancy our chances against some of the big teams,” Sharan said with confidence.
“We would love to go down as a famous Indian pair but that requires us to win Grand Slams. I believe we can do it, it takes a lot to win those Slams, we need to put in more effort,” added Raja when asked if they see themselves becoming well-known pairs such Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi.
Their confidence comes from the fact they have have won the most number of deciding points this season. They played 73 such crucial points and their winning percentage was 66.
“From next year, we should be making the Grand Slams. It’s just about kind of getting into the big league, playing those matches. In doubles anything can happen. It’s unpredictable. If you ask a singles player ranked like us, it would be difficult for him but in doubles, level is almost same,” Sharan said.
“You name a top-20 player and we have played them. Level is same, just one or two points here and there. It’s about winning those seven matches in a row. That makes good teams great team. We hope to be there,” Raja said further.
Sharan appreciated the support he gets from Indian Oil, where he is employed.
“I had had support from Indian oil. I get salary and perks and kit from Adidas, racquet from Head.”
Raja though said they have reached a stage in their career when they need a trainer and coach to travel with them.
“We are getting into 30s, the prime years of doubles. We will invest if someone can help us out for a trainer. That makes a big difference. It’s one or two percent that makes the difference.”
Both Sharan and Raja have been without a regular coach and a trainer all these years and have got some help from a few people when they do not play tournaments.