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Updated: January 2, 2010 01:16 IST

Season opener requires something extra: Cilic

Kunal Diwan
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Croatia's Marin Cilic during a practice session in Chennai ahead of the Aircel Chennai Open Tennis Championship on Friday. Photo:R. Ragu
The Hindu
Croatia's Marin Cilic during a practice session in Chennai ahead of the Aircel Chennai Open Tennis Championship on Friday. Photo:R. Ragu

Saws whined, hammers pounded and drills droned as a new year sun beat down upon the PlayPave courts at the SDAT Tennis Stadium here on Friday.

Going through the final preparations for the country’s only ATP tournament, the workmen were not the only ones braving an early start on what would have been a perfect post-revelry morning to spend in bed.

So while most of the city stayed suspended in a semi-catatonic haze, Croatian World No. 14 Marin Cilic hit the venue early with his brother, hitting balls in his bid for a title defence.

The six-foot-six inch Cilic won at Chennai and Zagreb to begin last season, but admitted that certain phases of 2009 were more in keeping with his plans than others.

Sensational wins

“The first and last part were great…the middle could have been a lot better,” said the man who slumped midway, but came back strongly in the hardcourt season with sensational wins against Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Nikolay Davydenko.

On the brink of breaking into the top 10, Cilic blamed the postponement of his presence in that elite group to ‘tiredness and lack of fitness’.

“I have been working on my fitness during the off season. I want to reach a level that allows me to play my top game for three-four weeks in succession.”

On his chances here, the 21-year-old said, success in the season-opener required something extra because most players were rusty emerging from the festive season.

Elsewhere on Centre Court, the Great Indian Hope and last year’s finalist, Somdev Devvarman, flounced around in characteristic style. Defending points and reputation before a home crowd, the 124th-ranked Somdev said he’d rather look at the bigger picture than aim for just short-term satiation.

‘It’s not about defending points at one tournament, I had a decent 2009, and I would like to improve on that overall performance this year.’

The 24-year-old said he had learnt a lot from observing, and facing, Andy Roddick’s blistering bombshells in Austin, Texas during the off season.

“Watching Roddick in action helped me improve my own serve, and it’s great to see a top star stay in shape once the season concludes.”

A busy player whose results depend as much on his legs as on his ability to counter punch, Somdev’s success here would be a shot in the arm for Indian tennis. However, according to Dirk Hordorff — coach to Janko Tipsarevic and Rainer Schuttler — Somdev was committing the mistake of playing too far back.

Great legs

Watching the curly top slam it from way behind the baseline, Hordorff said, “He has great legs, but he is not using his potential. He has to correct the tendency of stepping so far back.”

Another prominent figure seen sweating it out on Friday included Chennai Open regular Rainer Schuttler. The 33-year-old German 10th seed needed no prompting to begin his interaction with newspersons with a sounding on retirement plans.

“I want to play like I did five years ago. I still enjoy playing and will continue to do so as long as I am fit,” he said.

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