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New high for Indian tennis

Devvarman thrashes top-seed Istomin 6-1 6-2 to pick up country’s first ever men’s singles gold

Written by Shivani Naik | Guangzhou |
November 24, 2010 3:14:58 am

Essentially an inquisitive young man,Somdev Devvarman kept fiddling with the press-conference mike,turning the flexible cable left and right,stretching it to its maximum,till he found the exact spot which when tapped would deliver the clearest decibel. Someone delivered a speech in the background on India’s first men’s single gold medal Devvarman had just won,while he twirled the medal itself round his fingers. A little while later,he scratched his nails around splitting a laminate of his accreditation card,and persisted at this little job till he’d found the right gap to cleave the plastic open.

The man may be known more for his big returns and slugfests and dependability from the baseline — that helped him down Uzbek Denis Istomin 6-1,6-2 without too much fuss — and not much for his nuanced touch-play. But he sure puts plenty of store on getting a right grip on the pulse of the situation.

Tennis can’t always be about big weapons — so Devvarman kept an eye on how his opponent was reluctant to commit to a fight,and jumped on the fact that Istomin’s serve had dumped him on the altar. How the gold was won might not make for some heroic tale in this lopsided contest,but the effort was in knowing how much pressure to exert and turning up with plans ranging from tackling the best situation to the worst.

Istomin had demanded very little of Devvarman’s application or attention in being subdued as the Uzbek — Asia’s highest ranked player on the Tour here — could bring only a very poor version of his A game to the table,and shrugged his way to a silver. He didn’t bother with Plan B.

Istomin outpunched

Devvarman though,knew which screws to tighten — his own Plan A of hitting it high,and getting the short ball working,proved enough to win gold. The 25-year-old Indian had broken Istomin at first crack,and continued to attack his weakness on the day — a blemish compounded by the Uzbek’s over-reliance on the serve throughout his run to the final. The only colour the top-seed provided to this final were his racquet tantrums — but even they were half-hearted as he seemed unable to decide if he wanted to fight or exit from the nearest door.

Somdev was soon sprawled on his back celebrating his second gold medal in 24 hours after the doubles triumph. “I’d dreamt about this one time,and then woke up!” he said,adding,“no one dreams of these things,but at such Games,people rise to the occasion. I didn’t expect the either of the gold medals,but the coaching staff had put in the hard work.”

Just as the young player is perceptive to the energy drawn from his coach Scott McCain – who he seeks out for guidance through mere eye-contact,Devvarman says he also believes in figuring out his opponent early,and then planning a suitable reaction. “I stick to my strengths,and I need to be aware of what’s working,how an opponent is going through his motions. Also if Plan A is working,then you don’t switch to Plan B,” he said.

His toothy smile was bared just after he hummed the national anthem,but he had been carrying sunshine in his heart as soon as he realised his strategy to push the ball at length and induce errors had a ready taker in Istomin. “Istomin didn’t have the advantage of the big final yesterday which Som did. He had absorbed the pressure,the crowd,the noise and he raised his level,” McCain said of his ward’s first-ever win over the Uzbek rival in three meetings. As Devvarman put it later,“For someone who started with 0 medals,and now has 2 gold,I haven’t done badly here.”

Neither did India that finished with 5 medals,including the prized men’s singles,as Somdev Devvarman soon had the pulse of the entire nation.

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