It wasn’t the kind of cold reception Somdev Devvarman expected. And we’re not even talking about the sub-zero climes of Christchurch.
Last Saturday, at sun-baked Illinois, Devvarman finally enjoyed his moment under the sun by clinching the Winnetka Challenger, ending a winless streak that lasted almost five months. But his feat drowned in the outpouring of accolades for Sania Mirza, Leander Paes and youngster Sumit Nagal, who won Wimbledon doubles titles with their respective partners.
Devvarman himself did not celebrate much, instead boarding the first flight to Christchurch, where he will assume the familiar role of being India’s talisman during the Davis Cup tie against New Zealand that begins on Friday.
India’s top-ranked singles player was drawn to play the first rubber against 548th ranked Michael Venus. And Devvarman will hope his form won’t desert him again.
For, since the last time he won a title, the Kolkata Open in February, the 30-year-old could not manage to go past the second round of the Challenger series till he won in Winnetka. That isn’t it.
Devvarman has failed to qualify for the main draw of an ATP Tour event as well. The only time he managed that — at Chennai open — he lost in the first round. The lowest point, perhaps, was when he lost to a player ranked 1602 in the world at the Burnie International in February. “My results on court haven’t been great. That said, it wasn’t cause of lack of focus or hard work. Maybe I was trying too hard. But without a good coach that can sometimes be a hindrance; you don’t have a clear direction. I’m happy my team and I have sorted that out now,” Devvarman told The Indian Express from Christchurch. ‘Clear direction’ is something he has lacked over the last 18 months. After a memorable 2013, where he was among the Comeback of the Year nominees, Devvarman lost considerable ground in 2014.
This year, it’s gotten worse. To arrest his slump, India’s non-playing captain at the Davis Cup, Anand Amritraj, urged him to tweak his style and charge more often towards the net. Tony Roche, the coach of several Grand Slam winners, advised him to develop a big serve and bigger forehand.
It doesn’t take long to understand that Devvarman prefers slugging out a point, relying more on his work rate and speed, finding comfort at the baseline. But the lack of a defining weapon in his armory suddenly magnified during the barren phase.
Devvarman is aware of his limitations. He parted ways with his full-time coach Scott McCain and now works part-time with a new trainer. He tried to incorporate the changes he was suggested.
“I was not particularly comfortable (in bringing in the changes). That was part of the struggle I guess,” he said.
But after more than a year of experimenting, rather unsuccessfully, he has reverted to the tried and tested. “I have started focusing more on using my own strengths on court and fighting hard,” he added.
“I took a little break and chilled with some friends (before the Winnetka Challenger). After that I went back to square one and worked really hard. Both the break and work after were needed. I’m just glad I am back on track.”
At 148, he still is some distance away from breaking into the top 100 again. But even as he swims against the rankings tide, the thoughts of switching to doubles did not cross his mind. While most Indian tennis players have taken the doubles route to success, Devvarman believes he still has a lot to offer in singles.
“No. Definitely not yet,” he said when asked about the switch to doubles. “I still feel like I can play good singles and can have some quality wins. And I still enjoy playing the game. I have no interest in switching to only doubles as of now.”At least this weekend, his services in doubles won’t be needed. India will be the odds-on favourites against New Zealand in the Asia/Oceania second round tie. A win this weekend would take India to the World Group playoff. But Devvarman isn’t think that far yet. For now, he just hopes to continue hitting the ball as well as he did last week.
“The (title) helps because you can fall back on the reasons you have been successful,” he said. “I know I still have it in me.”