For the first time in five years, Somdev Devvarman, India’s star singles player is giving his ‘home tournament’ – the Chennai Open — a miss. This has set the speculations swirling that his return to competitive tennis is highly uncertain and India might have seen the last of his counter-punching strokes.
Back in 2012, a shoulder injury had kept the 31-year-old from playing. This time around, nobody knows the reasons for his prolonged absence from the tennis courts. The speculation gained traction recently when his name suddenly came up in the list of individuals being considered by the All India Tennis Association (AITA) for the Davis Cup coach’s role.
“I didn’t know how serious he was, but I knew he was interested at one point to be a coach,” says Anand Amritraj, the outgoing Davis Cup non-playing captain. “I have a feeling he’s done (with playing). I don’t know if it’s true, and I’m not sure since I haven’t spoken to him in the last couple of weeks, but I think he’s done,” he adds.
So one of India’s more exciting singles careers that briefly promised to leap to the next level as he hared around the court retrieving, seems to have skidded to an inexplicable stop earlier this year. Somdev led the Indian charge in the Davis Cup singles since his debut in 2008, and has played 14 rubbers – including inspiring victories against Jiri Vesely of Czech Republic and Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic in the World Group Playoffs of 2015 and 2014 respectively. His efforts were instrumental in India making the World Group in 2010.
He is still the only Indian singles player to have come close to an ATP title – reaching the finals of the 2009 Chennai Open and 2011 South Africa Open – since Leander Paes won a tour event in the United States in 1998. The end of this career though is shrouded in the assumption brought forth by the fact that his name had somehow made its way into the list of probables for the Davis Cup coach’s role.
What adds to the intrigue is that the man himself is yet to reveal his stand.
“He didn’t apply for the job, nor did the AITA approach him for it either,” asserts Zeeshan Ali, who was re-selected as coach of the team.
It’s a fact that was made clear to AITA selection committee chairman SP Misra last week. “When I met him in Hyderabad last week, he told me he’s not into coaching,” Misra explains. Ali too mentions receiving a message from Devvarman, in which the former world number 62 affirmed that his name floating among the contenders was simply a rumour and that he had no intention of taking the job.
Even a coaching job from the University of Virginia in the United States, Devvarman’s alma mater, has been turned down by the college’s former tennis star who had led them to several NCAA titles. “We were told that he has taken a job at the University of Virginia, but he told me that he’s not into coaching,” Misra adds.
Still, the rumour persists that Devvarman has indeed hung up his racquet.
It was back in March this year, at a Futures tournament in Bakersfield, California where he last played a competitive match on the ATP circuit. Injuries have stalked him for a few seasons now. A sore shoulder kept him out for the most of 2012, including the Chennai Open. And his current absence from the tour has taken his rank from 173 at the beginning of the year to a lowly 909. “It’s been several months since he’s played tennis. I asked him how does he intend to start, or where he wants to start, but he says that as of now, he has no plans to play,” says Misra. Ali adds that he hasn’t “started practicing either.”
It’s clear he hasn’t yet ‘officially’ retired. “He hasn’t called it quits though. He might have something on his mind, or something else on his agenda. But as of now he doesn’t intend getting into the tournament groove,” Misra adds.
Ali delves a bit deeper into the topic. “He’s not sure about it himself,” he says. “He’s in that space where he’s not sure what he wants to do. But he needs to make up his mind soon.”
Not quite the end of an era then.
In 2008, Devvarman became a certified tennis professional. The Chennai Open that kicks off a week from now, will be only the second Chennai Open without him since his career resumed. “He’s definitely not playing this year, that’s for sure,” confirms a tournament official.
Still there’s hope that he’ll return. And soon, with the same vigour, passion and skill. A baseliner, who had the fitness to stand his ground in the longest and cruelest of slugfests. One with a penchant to pull off the more miraculous of returns to outdo an opponent. Right now though, his indecision seems to be his own adversary.