On the rise

Published : Mar 21, 2009 00:00 IST

From winning a mere four games in three sets against Victor Hanescu in the World Group play-off tie against Romania in Bucharest last September to beating world No. 57 Yen-Hsun Lu for the loss of just six games and spearheading India to victory against Chinese Taipei, Somdev Devvarman has come a long way, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

The fortunes of Somdev Devvarman have undergone a sea change in recent times, but the good thing is that the boy is still evolving as a tennis player. “He will go places,” observed India’s Davis Cup captain S. P. Misra, who had the privilege of leading the team to a memorable triumph against Chinese Taipei in Kaohsiung.

From winning a mere four games in three sets against Victor Hanescu in the World Group play-off tie against Romania in Bucharest — he struggled to even win a dead rubber — last September to beating world No. 57 Yen-Hsun Lu for the loss of six games and spearheading India to victory against a tough opponent, Somdev has indeed come a long way in short time. And what was remarkable was that he won both his singles matches with a touch of assurance.

Making it to the final of the Chennai Open in January has obviously given a lot of confidence to Somdev. His victories against players such as Carlos Moya and Ivo Karlovic in the tournament helped him gauge his own capabilities. If the conditions favour a grinder like him, Somdev could indeed prove to be a handful.

However, after the Chennai Open, Somdev managed to win only three matches in the lead up to the Davis Cup tie against Chinese Taipei. Yet, the 24-year-old was ready when it counted.

“He knew his responsibility of having to win two singles matches, though he was not that confident at the start. He was always ahead and thus managed to win in straight sets against Ti Chen to give us a good start,” said Misra.

It was just the start India needed.

“It was very hard for us on the last day, but Somdev came prepared. He engaged Lu in long and hard rallies so much that by the time the second set started, Lu looked exhausted,” said Misra.

“It was important to close out (the match) and not be overconfident,” remarked the skipper who was quite pleased with the way Somdev finished against a player who had beaten David Nalbandian in five sets at the Australian Open this year.

Incidentally, Lu had beaten the current hot shot, Andy Murray, in the first round of the Beijing Olympics. He also had victories over Nicolas Lapentti (in five sets at the US Open last September) and Lleyton Hewitt (at Delray Beach). But, as they say, you are only as good as your last match, and Lu was a disappointment for the home crowd though he had outplayed Rohan Bopanna who had a better record against him.

Somdev, the two-time NCAA singles champion, has triggered a lot of hopes in the squad with his heroics and now India is confident of taking on 28-time champion Australia for a berth in the World Group play-off from May 8 to 10.

“With Lleyton Hewitt’s injury and recent surgery, we have a fair chance of pulling it off,” said Misra.

Misra was quite delighted about the manner in which all the four players pulled together as a team. “They gave me a lot of respect, and when you get results like this, it is very satisfying,” he said.

Talking of the dramatic change in fortunes of Somdev in the Davis Cup arena, Misra said: “The slow clay did not suit him in Romania. He is improving. He is a strong lad, and the longer the match, the better his chances. He can be much better in ranking.”

Somdev is now ranked 150 in the world. Though Somdev is Misra’s trump card, the captain has a lot of respect for Rohan Bopanna and has impressed upon him the need to work harder to get better results. “Bopanna has promised to put in that extra work.

He is not able to play much singles on the circuit because of his focus on doubles. He was rusty, but he is capable of playing very well,” said Misra.

* * *FOR THE RECORDIndia beat Chinese Taipei 3-2Somdev Devvarman bt Ti Chen 7-5, 6-4, 6-4

Rohan Bopanna lost to Yen-Hsun Lu 6-7 (2), 2-6, 2-6

Leander Paes & Mahesh Bhupathi bt Tsung-Hua Yang & Chu-Huan Yi 6-4, 7-6 (0), 6-7 (2), 6-2

Somdev Devvarman bt Yen-Hsun Lu 6-1, 6-2, 6-3

Rohan Bopanna lost to Tsung-Hua Yang 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-7 (5).

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