In August, when Divij Sharan and Purav Raja, with their rankings down near the 70s, decided to part ways in order to increase their chances of qualifying for the US Open, there was a tinge of sadness. An all-Indian doubles partnership is as tenuous as a house of cards. Yet Purav and Divij had gelled wonderfully well for more than a year.
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However, in the time since then, the split – on available evidence – seems to have worked. Divij in particular saw his ranking rise to a career-best 50 early this month in spite of playing with a slew of partners – eight in 11 tournaments till date. At 51, he is now the second-highest ranked Indian after Rohan Bopanna (18).
“It wasn't easy,” Divij said. “I had played with one partner for about 15 to 18 months and you kind of get used to it. So the first two weeks were tough. But I chose to put the attention on myself and work on my own game. Try and see how I could contribute towards performing better as a team instead of relying on the team. The goal for now has been to focus within.”
Purav, who has of late successfully joined forces with Leander Paes, had described the rupture as a “breaking of the mould to get better.” It has somewhat been the same for Divij as well.
“Playing with different partners is good sometimes. It helps your game. They have their game styles and you learn to adapt yours a little bit. So you challenge yourself and pick up new things.”
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This probably paid rich dividends when he won the ATP 250 title at Antwerp in mid-October with American Scott Lipsky. En route to the crown, the duo beat top-class doubles teams in Ivan Dodig-Marcel Granollers and Raven Klaasen-Rajeev Ram.
“It was pretty big. I had some of my biggest wins. I did have a few finals and semis elsewhere but it wouldn’t do much to my rankings. So this was the big result I needed. Now looking into 2018, it will help me play the bigger tournaments to start the year instead of worrying about making the cut.”
But for all the success, Divij admitted that he can’t go on switching partners. “At the end of the day, it is a team sport and it’s ideal to play with one person and try and get better.” So with the rankings sorted for now, will he pair up with Purav again? “I don't know. We haven’t had any chat.”
Fans, it appears, need to wait longer.