Bozoljac, a surprise winner

Ilija Bozoljac of Serbia with the trophy.-SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

The temperamental Serb won the men’s title at the Bengal Tennis Association complex in Kolkata, which hosted a $50,000 ATP Challenger event for the first time. Amitabha Das Sharma reports.

Ilija Bozoljac carries skill, conviction and showmanship in an exotic blend, making his tennis both effective and entertaining. This interesting element of the rather unsung Serbian player enlivened the proceedings at the Bengal Tennis Association complex in Kolkata, which hosted a $50,000 ATP Challenger event for the first time.

Bozoljac’s run in the State Bank of India-sponsored event brought about an absorbing combination of skill and fighting spirit, which was served best in the semifinals. The temperamental Serb lost the first nine games (including losing the first set 0-6) before staging a memorable comeback against world No. 93 Aleksandr Nedovyesov. The 270-ranked Bozoljac, who blundered uninterruptedly while losing the first set and then trailed 0-3 in the second, argued aloud with himself, trying to find a way out. And, when he did manage to hold his serve in the fourth game where he hit two aces to tide over his tentative service that saw a number of double faults, Bozoljac let out a cry of triumph.

“The shout was more about confirming that I could win a game. I had been telling myself, ‘come-on I cannot lose 6-0, 6-0.’ I was then making a start with a handicap of nine,” Bozoljac said, describing one of the ‘memorable’ wins of his career.

Somdev Devvarman couldn't find his rhythm in the semifinals though he started brightly against Evgeny Donskoy. The Russian produced winners at will as Devvarman suddenly lost his grip and surrendered meekly in the end.-SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

The Serb did well in carrying forward the mesmeric display of the semifinals as he dwarfed the third-seed and world No. 127 Evgeny Donskoy in a one-sided final. “For me it has always been a quest for focus and concentration, which I tend to lose at crucial moments. But thankfully I could discover it in the right time in the tournament here,” Bozoljac sounded relieved after winning his fourth ATP challenger title after a break of more than five years. The player lost six finals in the long interval after he had won successive titles in September 2008 (in Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ljubljana, Slovenia).

“The ego often tends to obstruct the thought process in a player, who then loses the ability to change his game according to the situation. Similarly, for me it was more of a fight within as I tried to overcome my ego to change my game and win the title,” the 28-year-old, who has been in the professional circuit for more than 10 years, said. The player, who saw recurrent injuries snapping a big time from the “best years” of his tennis between 2009 and 2011, was not in a mood to look back. “I don’t look at my ranking as it is of no use. I am always trying to better my game and all that I gain is part of this process,” Bozoljac said. Bozoljac’s magic came to the fore in the final stages of the tournament. Till the semifinals, it all belonged to India’s Somdev Devvarman. The country’s best singles player in recent times, who once ranked 62 in the ATP list, was looking to get back to his best.

Devvarman, the second seed and the world No. 100, had been working on his physical tune-up following a shoulder surgery in 2012 and had some good wins in the early stages of the tournament.

“Every loss disappoints me, but I always try to get over the weak areas in my game and make a comeback,” Devvarman said at the start of the tournament.

The doubles winners, Saketh Myneni (left) and Sanam Singh.-SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

The country’s No. 1 player did keep his word with some emphatic wins that spoke a lot about his ability to regain a place in the top-100. Devvarman celebrated his 29th birthday, which coincided with the quarterfinals, in style as he defeated Adrian Menendez-Maceiras of Spain in a three-set thriller. The Indian couldn’t find his rhythm in the semifinals though he started brightly against Donskoy. The Russian produced winners at will as Devvarman suddenly lost his grip and surrendered meekly in the end.

“I could have played a little more aggressively. I started off really well but I could not get the first serve percentage that well in the second set,” Devvarman said after the loss. “He (Donskoy) really outplayed me today,” said Devvarman who had beaten the Russian in a three-setter in their previous meeting.

The combination of Saketh Myneni and Sanam Singh won the crown defeating Divij Sharan and Vishnu Vardhan in the doubles final.

THE RESULTS

Men’s singles: Final: Ilija Bozoljac (Srb) bt Evgeny Donskoy (Rus) 6-1, 6-1. Semifinals: Ilija Bozoljac bt Aleksandr Nedovyesov (Kaz) 0-6, 7-5, 6-3; Evgeny Donskoy bt Somdev Devvarman (Ind) 3-6, 7-5, 6-2.

Doubles: Final: Saketh Myneni & Sanam Singh (Ind) bt Divij Sharan & Vishnu Vardhan (Ind) 6-3, 3-6, 10-4.