2010: Cilic clicks again

Amidst the early disappearance of seeds, Marin Cilic, seeded two, stood firm. The serve, undoubtedly, is his biggest weapon. For a man who is six feet, six inches tall, serving bombs is ridiculously easy. By winning the Chennai Open title for the second successive time, Cilic became only the second player after Carlos Moya (2004 and 2005) to defend the crown successfully.

Marin Cilic... back to back crowns.   -  R. Ragu

The sun made only fleeting appearances in the afternoon and the cool, pleasant breeze wafting across the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu-Nungambakkam Stadium in the evening in Chennai made for a perfect setting to watch high quality tennis action at India’s only ATP tournament.

In no time, the 2010 Aircel Chennai Open created enough surprises. The top-seed and World No. 8 Robin Soderling bowed out to Robby Ginepri of U.S. in the first round. Two other ranked players followed Soderling — sixth seed Simon Greul and eighth seed Rajeev Ram of U.S.

True to the Open’s nature, several lesser-ranked players rose to the occasion to go some distance. Israel’s Dudi Sela, ranked 40, was one such player. Despite his homeland facing so many problems, he conjured up a wonderful game. His one-handed backhand was a visual treat. He ultimately lost to third seed Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland in the semifinal.

Amidst the early disappearance of seeds, World No.14 Marin Cilic, seeded two, stood firm. The serve undoubtedly is his biggest weapon. For a man who is six feet, six inches tall, serving bombs is ridiculously easy. Watching Cilic in action is akin to waves in motion; everything is in harmony. There isn’t a single major flaw in his game. A Grand Slam triumph is round the corner for the talented 21-year-old from Croatia.

By winning the Chennai Open title for the second successive time, Cilic became only the second player after Carlos Moya (2004 and 2005) to defend the crown successfully. “I feel proud to win the title,” said Cilic.

As Tipsarevic observed, “Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal show no fear when they play against established opponents.” Cilic cerainly belongs to the generation for whom the term ‘fear’ does not exist.

For Cilic, his countryman Goran Ivanisevic has been a big inspiration. “He helped me in my career. When I was like 14-15 years old and he was finishing his career, he sparred a lot with me. After his Wimbledon win, Goran was a huge help in my career. He also connected me with Bob Brett (coach). He was a pretty big inspiration. And also when I trained with Goran, I learnt a lot of new things that would have taken me years on the circuit to understand. Goran has been fantastic. He is really a nice guy,” Cilic had said in an interview. “I have a long way to go to match him (Goran).”

Stanislas Wawrinka... the Swiss finished runner-up.

Similarities with Goran are one too many. Cilic too is a gentleman and a nice guy to be around with. The way he interacted with the media, the officials and other players at the Chennai Open had courtesy and decency written all over it. The Croat was a big hit. “We love you,” roared the crowd after Cilic’s victory over Wawrinka.

Moya’s exit in the first round to Tipsarevic triggered a sea of emotions. Maybe this is the Spaniard’s last visit as a player to the Chennai Open. After the match, the 33-year-old two-time champion was given a memento even as the crowd chanted ‘Moya, Moya’ throughout. Moya said that the last 10 months had been very difficult and that the decision to opt out of a second surgery had helped him. He summed up saying, “It is a dream to come here, to be playing, even losing.” On questions about his retirement, Moya remained non-committal. “I cannot say after just one match. I got better and better in the match. I am lacking a bit of match practice. It is a great feeling to be back on the court.”

It was once again a sob story for the Indians in both singles and doubles. Wild card entrant Somdev Devvarman, a finalist last year, raised expectations defeating Rainer Schuettler of Germany in the first round. Up against Tipsarevic, the World No.35, Somdev tried hard, but the difference in class showed. Somdev lost in straight sets with just three games to his credit.

Another wild card, Rohan Bopanna, couldn’t do much against Wawrinka and bowed out in the first round. Prakash Amritraj fought hard to qualify for the main draw where he lost promptly.

In the absence of Leander Paes, who chose to play in the Brisbane event, Mahesh Bhupathi and Bopanna provided the doubles attraction. They have hardly played together and a quarterfinal finish was all the pair could show. The youthful Sanam Singh and Somdev gave a hint of their capabilities. The duo did well to enter the semifinals.

What does the future hold for the Chennai Open? “We have one more year, we’ll see when it comes,” said Karti P. Chidambaram, Chairman, Organising Committee, Aircel Chennai Open. While all seems well, the Vijay Amritraj controversy — the popular Chennai tennis personality was not invited for the draw — showed the strained relationship between the International Management Group and the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association. How the two handle the differences will be the key to whether India’s only ATP tournament remains in Chennai or not.

(As appeared in The Sportstar on January 28, 2010)