Somdev Varman proves his worth

THE slogan — `India Shining' may have political overtures but the phrase was given its real glitter by three countrymen — Somdev Dev Varman, Vishal Uppal and Mustafa Ghouse, who monopolised the titles in the $10,000 ITF Futures held in Kolkata.

AMITABHA DAS SHARMA

THE slogan — `India Shining' may have political overtures but the phrase was given its real glitter by three countrymen — Somdev Dev Varman, Vishal Uppal and Mustafa Ghouse, who monopolised the titles in the $10,000 ITF Futures held in Kolkata.

Somdev Dev Varman with the singles trophy. — Pic. S. PATRONOBISH-

Dev Varman won the singles title while Uppal and Ghouse accomplished a hat-trick winning the third back-to-back crown in the doubles. The ONGC sponsored meet put a perfect finish to three weeks of international tennis action in the country which brought in almost all the top ranked talents alongside many foreign entries seeking precious ATP points. The caravan traversed cross-country starting in Delhi in the last week of February and then to Chennai before arriving at the new venue in the eastern Metropolis.

The more-than-a-century-old conservative club in Kolkata threw open its freshly laid clay courts and its facilities for the first time under the initiative of the former Davis Cupper Jaideep Mukherjea, thus becoming the third international venue in the city after the famous South Club and the DKS Complex.

With the Indian prospects dwindling out early in the main singles event in both the previous legs, a notion made rounds that the new venue will help break the jinx. More so, a significant presence of names from the top half of the country's ranking added in strengthening the belief.

The supposed bigwigs fell by the wayside early and the Indian presence was almost cleaned out by the first two rounds. And it required a novice to prove his mastery where the celebrities had failed. As if invoked by a strange spirit to excel, Dev Varman was exceptional in fitness, form and consistency as he — making the main draw as a wild-card — improved with every match remaining invincible till the end. The 19-year-old Chennai based teenager — who was winning ITF junior events even last season — definitely evolved as a real winner. Vinod Sridhar was the other Indian making some impression by reaching the semi-finals while the likes of Davis Cuppers Rohan Bopanna, Punna Vishal, Vishal Uppal and Sunil Kumar Sipeya crashed out as captives of their own diffidence.

Vishal Uppal (left) and Mustafa Ghouse, who won the doubles title. -- Pic. S. PATRONOBISH-

The tournament, on the whole, turned out to be a minefield for the seeds as all the seven players named atop the hierarchy, except for the fourth seeded Yordan Kanev of Bulgaria, were pruned before the semi-finals. The head count in the end had Dev Varman and Sridhar sharing the honours in devouring half of the seeded players till the semi-finals. Dev Varman went a step ahead, accounting for the last surviving seed — Kanev — in the final. His triumph would have gladdened his employer, ONGC, which also sponsored the event.

As the progress charts depict, Dev Varman played the only three-setter of the tournament in the first round where he took on Prima Simpatiaji for a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 scoreline. "The first round is always a bit difficult. I had some starting problems but the win eventually set me in rhythm for the rest of the tournament,'' said Dev Varman, who literally zipped through to the title bringing up cameos of an all-round excellence — founded on a strong baseline play — that no one could effectively challenge. The Chennai factor came up strongly in the meet as Vinod Sridhar also made progress in the bottom half of the draw. He played flawless tennis in the first round, which saw his rasping forehand returns in full flurry, ejecting the second seeded Orest Tereshchuk of Ukraine. Having lost to the same opponent in the third-set tie-breaker in the Delhi leg, Sridhar avenged the loss in style while getting in motion for greater conquests in the coming rounds.

The two players came up full throttle in the quarter-finals crafting vignettes of grit and gumption. Dev Varman crashed through the defences of top seeded Bulgarian Todor Enev, who could only rant and rave on the court as his Indian opponent, ranked 667 places below, replied with a winner on almost everything that he produced. Dev Varman, a Class XII student of National Open School, exacted the reversal of roles easing his journey forward with a 6-2, 7-6(7-4) scoreline against Enev. On the other hand, Sridhar ensured that his first-round achievement did not remain a solitary case quelling the challenge of eighth seeded Norikazu Sugiyama of Japan.

The semi-finals, for a change, had an Indian each as Dev Varman took on a resurgent Frenchman Jordanne Doble while Sridhar was up against fourth seeded Kanev. The Indian success story continued through the semis as Dev Varman got the better of Doble but Sridhar failed to repeat the feat falling in a heap of errors against Kanev.

Doble, making a comeback after a long lay-off with injury, was flummoxed by his opponent's alacrity. The Bordeaux resident, naturally attuned to clay, had shown adequate finesse in all his wins up to the last four stage, but was totally out mastered by Dev Varman in just 65 minutes. The final was the last formality that the Indian completed showing the usual sense of economy. Kanev enjoyed some success initially leading by the odd `break' in three as the first three games, with Dev Varman staring, went against serves. The Indian restored parity in the eighth game and then held his own service game before repeating the break in the 10th game on Kanev's service to walk away with the first set. The second set had no more twists as the Indian broke the Bulgarian twice — in the second and eighth games — to embrace glory in style and also secured 12 precious ATP points.

The pair of Uppal and Ghouse, having the Busan Asian Games bronze under their belts, set another milestone of their triumphant partnership winning three back-to-back Futures titles. The two, as the top seeds, dealt out a straight set defeat to the unseeded Bulgarian pair of Enev and Kanev in the final. Having annexed the crown in Delhi and Chennai it was perfect way to finish the fixture at home before setting the focus abroad.

Singles: Final: Somdev Dev Varman (Ind) bt 4-Yordan Kanev 6-4, 6-2; Semi-finals: Somdev Dev Varman bt Jordanne Doble (Fra) 6-2, 6-3; Yordan Kanev bt Vinod Sridhar (Ind) 6-3, 6-4. Quarter-finals: Somdev Dev Varman bt 1-Todor Enev (Bul) 6-2, 7-6(7-4); Jordanne Doble bt Rainer Eitzinger (Aut) 6-4, 6-3; Yordan Kanev bt Markus Egger (Aut) 3-6, 6-3, 6-3; Vinod Sridhar bt 8-Norikazu Sugiyama (Jpn) 2-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Doubles: Final: 1-Vishal Uppal & Mustafa Ghouse (Ind) bt Todor Enev & Yordan Kanev (Bul) 6-3, 6-4; Semi-finals: Vishal Uppal & Mustafa Ghouse bt 3-Orest Tereshchuk (Ukr) & Karim Maamoun (Egy) 3-6, 1-0 (retd); Todor Enev & Yordan Kanev bt 4-Ajay Ramaswami & Sunil Kumar Sipaeya (Ind) 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.