India’s most stable doubles pairing, Divij Sharan and Purav Raja, have decided to split to give themselves a chance to qualify for the US Open. Raja will now team up with veteran Leander Paes for the upcoming tournaments, while Sharan will partner Andre Begemann of Germany. “We (Sharan and Raja) weren’t sure if we would make the cut at Winston-Salem Open (ATP 250) and US Open, so we decided to look for higher ranked partners for these two tournaments” says Sharan.
The duo was the only Indian pairing placed in the top-100 but suffered a sudden drop in rankings after failing to defend the points they had won last year. At the recently concluded event in Los Cabos, Mexico, Sharan and Raja were defending 250 points as they had won the tournament in 2016 but could only reach the semi-finals this time, dropping 160 ranking points.
Subsequently, their ranking dropped by 15 places, Sharan falling to 68 and Raja to 69. With their sights set on the last Grand Slam of the year, there was a possibility that their new rankings would not grant them a spot at the US Open. “After Los Cabos, I realised that we might not make the cut,” says Raja. “So I asked him (Leander) what his plans are and he was keen to play a few weeks together.”
Since teaming up in 2016, the Raja-Sharan partnership was successful, capturing the title at Los Cabos and winning a further four Challenger events in the previous season. This year, they started off as finalists at the Chennai Open, and later went on to win Bordeaux Challenger. At the Slams, they were knocked out in the first round of the Australian Open, second round at Wimbledon, but managed a third-round finish on clay at Roland Garros. They also reached their highest career ranks (Sharan 51 and Raja 52) together.
The doubles cut-off for the US Open is usually in the range of 130 to 135 combined ranks, but Raja expects the number to be lower for this edition, making it clear that the split was more of a precautionary move.
Raja and the higher ranked Paes’ (59) combined rank comes to 128, while Sharan’s partner Begemann is placed just two spots ahead of him at 66 – making their combined rank 134. The last time Raja and Paes teamed up was in 2013, in the first round zonal Davis Cup tie against South Korea. Both are proficient net-players, but have limitations in their serve and baseline games. Interestingly enough, Paes too is struggling with form and was dropped from the Davis Cup for a second consecutive tie just last week.