Somdev Devvarman and Sanam Singh clinched the men's doubles gold medal in tennis in the Asian Games on Monday.
With the young Sanam providing the fireworks and Devvarman lending solidity, the Indian duo followed in the footsteps of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, in performing a hat-trick of gold for India in the event, with a 6-3, 6-7(4), 10-8 victory over the second-seeded Gong Maoxin and Li Zhe of China.
Paes and Bhupathi had saved seven matchpoints on way to defending the title in the last edition in Doha against the Ratiwatana twins, Sanchai and Sonchat of Thailand, who were seeded No. 1 in the current draw but had lost their first match.
The gold medal in the absence of Paes, Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna, was a huge tonic for the young players, particularly after the heart-breaking loss for Sania Mirza and Vishnu Vardhan in the mixed doubles final against the second-seeded Yung Jan Chan and Tsung Hua Yang of Chinese Taipei earlier.
Tsung Hua Yang once again proved the stumbling block for the Indian aspirations, after his performance in the men's semifinals in the team competition, in guiding Taipei to a 4-6, 6-1, 10-2 victory in the mixed final. It was a terrific effort by Sania to end up with an individual bronze and a mixed doubles silver, after she had been unwell.
It was a memorable day for India as the second-seeded Devvarman battled an indifferent form to make the singles final with a 6-2, 0-6, 6-3 victory over Zhang Ze of China earlier in the day. He set up a date with the top-seeded Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan in the final.
“This gold is huge for us,” said Sanam who was representing the country at this level for the first time, and Devvarman had no hesitation in admitting that it was a “high point of his life.”
The Indian players were all praise for the Chinese pair's solid game under pressure, and picked up the return winner at 5-9 in the match tie-break when Sanam's big serve down the middle was ripped back for a backhand return winner, as the pick of the shot.
There was tension as the Indian pair missed two more matchpoints with inadequate returns, but the Chinese obliged by putting a forehand long, after Devvarman had followed his first serve with a judicious shot. The two jumped into each other's arms, and it was Devvarman's turn to carry Sanam Singh.
Coach Nandan Bal chose Sanam as his ‘Man-of-the-Match', but credited Devvarman for having carried the team to the final with his mature game. He said that he had belief in the team as the duo had made the semifinals of the Chennai Open Tour event at the beginning of the season.
Devvarman meets Istomin
On his part, Devvarman said that he enjoyed playing doubles with Sanam, and said that he was ready with adequate energy for the singles final against Istomin, despite having played 14 matches so far in the Games, in singles and doubles.
“I am not tired, I will be ready for the final,” Devvarman said.
He said the loss in the doubles of the team competition had helped them tighten their game better. “That loss hurt us. We really wanted to the win the team gold. It taught us a lot. We changed a few things,” said Devvarman.
Brushing all comparisons with Paes and Bhupathi, both Devvarman and Sanam Singh were modest to say that they looked up to the “idols,” and had a lot to achieve to reach the levels of the two top 10 players of the country.
Sanam, a former No. 4 junior in the world, said that he was looking forward to playing more doubles with Devvarman, if given an opportunity despite their contrasting rankings, once he finished with his University degree in the U.S. over the next six months.
Coach Enrico Piperno gave a lot of credit for Vishnu Vardhan maturing with every match, and he was all praise for the superb manner in which Sania had played through the Games in adding a silver and a bronze to her original collection of two gold, a silver and a bronze.
“I thought that Sania would win the singles gold, considering the way she was playing, but Akgul Amanmuradova played the match of her life,” said Piperno.
Despite winning his semifnal against the third-seeded Go Soeda of Japan, 6-1, 6-0, another Uzbek, Denis Istomin admitted that he expected a tough match in the final.
“I have played Somdev a couple of times. He is very tough,” said Istomin.
While Devvarman will look to win his second gold medal, the Uzbeks will also be looking to win both the men's and women's singles titles.
Keywords: Asian Games 2010