IN the long line of champions brought out by the Britannia Amirtraj Tennis Centre in Chennai, Somdev Dev Varman is the latest, and perhaps the last.
At a time when Indian tennis is looking all around for champions, to possibly bridge the huge gap from the all-conquering Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi who have shown their prowess in all the four Grand Slams, the hunger and eagerness of Somdev to excel comes as a whiff of fresh air.
The 18-year-old Somdev showed that he had gained considerably from the Australian experience, which included a stint at the Australian Open junior event, by winning his maiden grade-3 ITF junior title in Delhi. He had won lesser level tournaments, three of them last year, but in a quality field, Somdev stood out with his big serves and a punchy game.
From the hot conditions of Melbourne to the rainy and cold climate of Delhi, it was totally a different challenge. The second-seeded Somdev adjusted to the situation, but needed three-setters against Jong Guk Ho of Korea in the first round, and Baris Erguden of Turkey in the quarter-finals. Yet, the heartening aspect was the energetic manner in which he handled the decisive third set.
In the final against the fifth-seeded Dmitry Ivanov of Uzbekistan, Somdev was flawless in the first set and had to ward off a brief spell and he lost focus in the second. It was also a revelation the way Somdev spiked the hopes of the sixth-seeded Gafur Ishmatov of Uzbekistan, a good player, conceding four games in the semifinals.
It is indeed some achievement to win a title when you have a congregation of players from over 20 countries. If he continues to get the support he deserves, Somdev will win many more titles, not just in the junior circuit.
"The Australian experience was an eye-opener. They hit a lot more hard out there. I have also started hitting harder, including my serve. It has improved my game very much", said Somdev who bagged the doubles title as well, with Karan Rastogi.
The top-seeded Karan put undue pressure on himself and thus was unable to play at his best. He was much better than Ivanov, but lost way in a three-set defeat, after having led 4-1 in the decider.
It is not easy, but it is necessary to remove the cobwebs from the mind. For a boy of Karan's experience, he should soon learn to relax especially when playing at home. There is no question about his ability, but he tends to play below par, for no relevant reason against less-endowed opponents.
Karan had shown his expertise in winning the first three rounds for the combined loss of eight games, but was nowhere near his best as he struggled in the semifinals.
Among the other Indians, Rupesh Roy managed to reach the quarterfinals, beating the third-seeded Chatwinder Singh in the first round and later Divij Sharan. Rupesh, however, did not have the heart to make a fight of it against Ivanov.
The early ouster of the fourth-seeded Tushar Liberhan was a surprise, though he was blown off the court by qualifier Dominic Inglot, a big serving Britain.
Siddharth Gulati looked good even as he went down to Ishmatov in the second round. Gulati highlighted his ability to fight as he won the second set 10-8 in the tie-break, but lacked the experience to get the better of his opponent in the decider.
Vivek Shokeen was the other wild card entrant to do well like Gulati, as he beat the 247th ranked Michael Wahl of Australia in three sets of quality play. However, Shokeen could not handle the pace and precision of Inglot.
In the girls section, Sanaa Bhambri had to shoulder the Indian hopes, especially after her elder sister Ankita Bhambri gave a walkover in the semifinals to fly down to Hyderabad for the 140,000 dollar WTA Indian Open qualifying event.
Opting to play the final the same day after her semifinal, Sanaa competed well against the hard-stroking top-seed Montinee Tangphong of Thailand, but could not pull hard in the climax. There is always a fear that the small-built Sanaa may be overpowered by stronger opponents, and that is something she may have to live with.
The difference between Sanaa and the rest of the Indian girls can be understood from the manner in which the much-improved Madura Ranganathan caved in against Montinee in the quarterfinals, failing to win a game. Sanaa lost to the same player in the final, 6-7 (3-7), 6-4, 3-6.
One good thing about the Indian girls is that most of them are trying to garner valuable experience in tournaments around the world. They are bound to improve in due course of time though they would do well with better guidance.The results:
Boys singles (final): Somdev Dev Varman bt Dmitry Ivanov (Uzb) 6-1, 7-6 (7-2); Semifinals: Dmitry Ivanov bt Karan Rastogi 6-2, 5-7, 6-4; Somdev Dev Varman bt Gafur Ishmatov (Uzb) 6-4, 6-0; Quarterfinals: Karan Rastogi bt Dmytri Tolok (Ukr) 6-4, 6-1; Dmitry Ivanov bt Rupesh Roy 6-3, 6-3; Gafur Ishmatov bt Dominic Inglot (GBR) 6-4, 6-1; Somdev Dev Varman bt Baris Erguden (Tur) 6-2, 6-7 (6-8), 6-0.
Doubles (final): Somdev Dev Varman and Karan Rastogi bt Punna Vikas and Chatwinder Singh 6-2, 6-1; Semifinals: Somdev Dev Varman and Karan Rastogi bt Nick Cavaday and Max Jones (GBR) 6-2, 6-4; Punna Vikas and Chatwinder Singh bt Dominic Inglot and Jamie Murray (GBR) 6-1, 6-4.
Girls singles (final): Montinee Tangphong (Tha) bt Sanaa Bhambri 7-6 (7-3), 4-6, 6-3; Semifinals: Montinee Tangphong w.o. Ankita Bhambri, Sanaa Bhambri bt Iryna Tsymbal (Ukr) 6-2, 6-2; Quarterfinals: Montinee Tangphong bt Madura Ranganathan 6-0, 6-0; Ankita Bhambri bt Wen-Hsin Hsu (Tpe) 6-3, 7-6 (8-6); Sanaa Bhambri bt Yana Nemerovski (Isr) 6-3, 2-6, 6-2; Iryna Tsymbal bt Jennifer Debodt (Bel) 6-3, 6-2.
Doubles (final): Montinee Tangphong and Thassha Vitayaviroj (Tha) bt Sanaa Bhambri and Madura Ranganathan 6-1, 6-1; Semifinals: Montinee Tangphong and Thassha Vitayaviroj bt Yana Nemerovski and Efrat Zlotikamin (Isr) 2-6, 6-1, 6-1; Sanaa Bhambri and Madura Ranganathan bt Denise Harijanto (Ina) and Klaudyna Kasztenaniec (Pol) 7-6 (7-3) 6-2.