Purav, Divij reflect on the "best year for us"

In 2016, Purav Raja and Divij Sharan won an ATP 250 event in Los Cabos (Mexico), made three semifinals, won four Challengers (two on grass and two on hard court) and finished finalist in one (clay).

Purav Raja (right) and Divij Sharan during a practise session in Chennai on Saturday.   -  S. R. Raghunathan

From the Amritraj brothers – Vijay and Anand – to Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, India has thrown up quite a few formidable doubles teams. So much so that Indian tennis, as bereft of singles success as it is, has often been accused of even romanticising its doubles pairings.

Yet, the exploits of Purav Raja and Divij Sharan this year have largely gone unnoticed. The duo won an ATP 250 event in Los Cabos (Mexico), made three semifinals, won four Challengers (two on grass and two on hard court) and finished finalist in one (clay).

In the process, both got to their career-best rankings – 65 for Purav and 61 for Divij. In fact, the ATP 250 win in Mexico, the three semifinal finishes and two Challenger wins on grass all came in a six-week window from mid-July to mid-August.

“Yeah,” replied Purav when asked if the lack of recognition was disappointing. “But it’s up to you guys,” he said with a laugh. “We can only do things with the racquet. I don’t know what more it takes. [The terms] ‘stellar year’ and ‘no recognition’ don't go together.”

“It’s definitely been the best year for us,” said Divij. “Having had some success in the past it wasn’t new. But we believe that we now have the game to challenge the players at the top.”

Consistent wins

What made the season special, according to Purav, was the level of consistency. “To win five to six tournaments in a year is what the top guys do,” he said. “We never had a barren period. The last tournament of the year, we made the final. Three weeks before that, we won in Pune. Three weeks before that, we won Los Cabos. It’s always been back to back to back.”

Intrinsic to any successful doubles unit is the chemistry between the two players. Purav and Divij seem to be blessed with it.

“We are very different in what we do and yet complement each other well,” explained Purav. “Doubles has become a two-three shot game. Being a left-right combination helps. Whatever we hide we hide, and whatever we can magnify we magnify.

“It’s not easy to find a partner who you can gel with and go through the grind. That's the toughest part in doubles now. It’s a thankless sport. It’s a losing sport. You lose every week. We travel 30 weeks and win five tournaments, you are all saying it’s been a great year. There are a lot of people who just win one or nothing. So we decided not to hold things like we did in the past in terms of results and pressure. We just wanted to play good tennis. That's helped us.”

In spite of all this, their names rarely figure in the Davis Cup scheme of things. The irony seems lost on most considering that the squabble prior to team selection is now becoming customary. “If we are called up, we will be definitely happy,” said Divij. “But having said that, Davis Cup is only for two to three weeks. When we are playing Tour events, Challengers, Slams, we are still representing India and we proudly do that.”

“We have to win more ATP tournaments to get there,” said Purav. “You have to be the best team in the country. But the whole year doesn’t revolve around Davis Cup.”

That quest can start in earnest at the Chennai Open where they have been drawn to meet Leander Paes and his Brazilian partner Andre Sa in the first round. The target for the season, though, is to finish in the top-30. “It’s not very distant in terms of points,” Purav felt. “If [we] play the right tournaments in the right weeks, with a few good wins and some better tennis, it’s very achievable.”