A Nelson of ranking places is the difference between the Aljaz Bedene of this year, and the Aljaz Bedene that became the first qualifier to reach the final of the Chennai Open last year. The 2015 season, that saw him start as 156 in the world, was one of consistency and calculated growth. This year, armed with a world number 45 rank, he started in the main draw of the SDAT Tennis Stadium. But, along with the confidence he’s brought with him through the successes of last season, he also involuntarily brings a question that has constantly poked his mind for the last few months – will he ever get to play for his adoptive country Great Britain in the Davis Cup?
It was a question that bothered him when he was declared ineligible to play for the team that had reached the final of the Davis Cup last November. As the second best ranked player in Britain behind only Andy Murray, the Slovenia-born player was expected to boost Great Britain’s chances of a win. They did get the win for the first time in 79 years, but without Bedene who was deemed ineligible.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) had set up a rule stating that a player who has represented one country in the Davis Cup may not play for another despite being granted citizenship. Incidentally, Bedene did play for his native country, Slovenia three times between 2010 and 2012. The rule however was brought into place on January 1, 2015, which Bedene earlier claimed was after he had lodged his first application.
The decision to switch nationalities though was actually made back in 2012, long before the ITF could pass the law that currently hinders him. “I wanted to change in 2012. But it took a few years more because you need to be a resident for seven years,” he says.
Nonetheless, the case isn’t over. The hearing has been pushed back to when the ITF board of directors next meet in March. There is a hope for Bedene, but there is still the disappointment of not getting to play the final last year. “I couldn’t really do anything about it. It’s great for the team that they won. I’d obviously love to play Davis Cup if I get picked, but at the moment I’m not eligible. So it’s hard. But I’m still waiting for March,” Bedene told Express.
When Bedene arrived in Chennai last year, he was flying the Slovenia flag. At that point in time, he had already begun the process of shifting nationalities. He had spent the required seven years in England to make him eligible for a new passport, and he was granted citizenship by the end of March last year. The idea behind moving to England permanently was based on him wanting to work on his budding tennis career. He had already been staying in London since 2008. “There are great tennis courts there and good conditions to play in,” he says.
Living away from home wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Bedene had left home as a 19-year-old for his tennis endeavours. Steadily a sense of homesickness crept up on him, further instigating his decision to set up base permanently in the foreign country. “The UK is close, so I was used to the travel. But I was getting a bit homesick. So I asked my fiancée to move there with me in 2012, which is also when the idea of getting citizenship came up,” he adds.
Bedene’s switching nationality doesn’t only provide him an advantage. Since he becomes the only other British player in the top 50, the GB team too boasts a stronger lineup. A successful 2015 campaign, which saw him win three of the four Challenger events he competed in, along with the runner-up finish at Chennai worked well to boost his ranking. The catalyst, for the improvement was a measured fitness regime. “I started to work with my fitness coach Martin Skinner in 2014. Before that I didn’t really know what I was doing. I had been working hard, but not working smart. That made a big difference for me,” he asserts. “And of course there was a good start to the season with the final finish at the Chennai Open last year,” he adds.
At the current tournament in Chennai, Bedene brushed aside seventh seeded Canadian Vasek Pospisil in straight sets when they met during the first round of the main draw. This was the second time Bedene got to start the Chennai Open in the main draw – a credit to his new ranking. “Playing’s been more enjoyable when you are in the top 100, compared to when you’re outside and have to play qualifiers,” he says, smiling for the first time.
Last year his aim was to break into the top 50, a target he has achieved. This time around he claims to want to improve steadily. But then there is the hearing in March that constantly revolves in his mind. When asked if the tension of the impending judgement nags him during tournaments, he simply replies, “yes, it does.”
From the tramlines
Second seeded singles player and world number 12 Kevin Anderson pulled out of the tournament due to a recurring injury to his left knee. Anderson was scheduled to play Ramanathan in a round of 16 match on Thursday. In place of the South African, Alexander Kudryavtsev from Russia, who had lost in the second round of the qualifying stage, was granted a lucky loser entry and will play the 21-year-old for a spot in the quarterfinals.
Match of the day – Stanislas Wawrinka vs Andrey Rublev
* The ‘ohhhhs’ and ‘aahhhs’ continued to great Stanislas Wawrinka from last year. The Swiss by now may have become well accustomed to the mesmerised reactions from the Chennai crowds during points.
* But when the top seed played in his first game of the 2016 edition, newbies in the stands were introduced to an elegant style of play. The serves, indeed powerful, were layered with stylish accuracy. Rublev would manage to get quite a few back onto Wawrinka’s side of the court, only to get pummelled.
* Wawrinka needed just 52 minutes to overcome the teenaged Russian 6-3, 6-2.
Other key results
* Both India’s doubles pairs made it to the quarterfinal stages of the tournament. Wild card pairing of Ramkumar Ramanathan and Sriram Balaji beat New Zealand pair Marcus Daniell and Artem Sitak 2-6, 7-6, 10-5. Somdev Devvarman and Jeeven Nedunchezhiyan also had to come from behind to beat Nicholas Monroe and Hans Podlipnik-Castill 4-6, 6-3, 10-5. The two Indian pairs now set up a clash between themselves for a place in the quarterfinals.
Match to look out for – Ramkumar Ramanathan vs Alexander Kudryavtsev
* The absence of second seed Kevin Anderson dampens the match to a certain degree. Nonetheless, Ramkumar Ramanathan being the only Indian left in the main draw will make the tie interesting. The local lad comprehensively beat Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver, who is ranked 150 places above Ramanathan, in their first round tie.