Somdev Devvarman who was part of the Chennai Open talks about spending his childhood in the city and his early training years

Guess what Somdev Devvarman and I have in common? We had the same tennis coach as kids. But then, look where he ended up…and as for me, (game wise) the lesser said the better. “He (the coach) had a soft corner for me I guess. He comes to watch me play even now,” laughs Somdev. Not just his coach, his friends from the city too show up to cheer him on.

Born in Guwahati, Somdev moved to Chennai when he was eight. He lives in the U.S now but visits frequently. “I keep coming back to Chennai for different reasons. I work with a non-profit organisation here called Life Is A Ball and I am here four-five times a year for a sports project in schools,” he says. Eleven years in the city has helped him make a lot of friends and every visit here means spending time with them. “I left for the U.S when I was 19. So when I am here we catch up and hang out at various places. I went to many schools — ASAN Memorial, MCC and then Saraswati Kendra which was an open school because I used to play and often missed classes,” he says.

Youngest of three, one brother and a sister, Somdev insists that even now when he meets his teachers they always talk about his siblings who were better than him in academics. “Till the VIII grade I was a good student. Studies were never a problem for me,” he says and after a pause grins, “I went to school more for my friends. I was a sweet kid, though I did sometimes get into trouble for minor things.”

It was in Chennai that he first started playing tennis. A sports enthusiast, he played almost every other sport except squash and golf. Noticing that tennis was something he was getting good at, he pursued it. How different are his visits here now that he is a celebrity? “It’s the same, just that every now and then I have a camera trained on me. I haven’t changed. Life doesn’t change. I go to places I used to and I meet my friends. What matters are my friends and being with them.”

Injuries have been his nemesis, often affecting his career graph. “I was out of the game for nine months after my shoulder surgery. To come back and play a professional game is tedious. But this is my work and I had to get back. It was a humbling process because suddenly this guy who travels and plays is now a guy who can’t even brush his teeth. Post-surgery I played my first game in the 2012 Olympics,” says the 28-year-old.

But 2013, he believes, had been a “great” year for him. “I started outside 600 and finished inside 100. I look at how well I competed when I was tired.” He hopes to bring some of the good experience into this New Year.

Like every other profession there are pros and cons to his as well. “As a kid I remember I was so excited when I took my first overseas flight. Now I enjoy going to new places but not the flying,” he says shaking his head. “The constant travelling, staying away from the family, is tough; but then I get to do what I love!” he smiles.