After Prakash Amritraj had given it his all and then some — to no avail because Japan’s Go Soeda was clinical when it counted —Janko Tipsarevic and Stanislas Wawrinka set in motion their campaigns for the Aircel Chennai Open.
Tipsarevic, the second seed, made short work of Edouard Roger-Vasselin, winning 6-2, 6-3. The fourth-seeded Wawrinka had a trickier opponent — the left-handed qualifier Cedrik-Marcel Stebe — but he managed the danger well for a 6-4, 6-3 victory.
Robin Haase couldn’t join these seeded gentlemen in the quarterfinals. The sixth seed, who had defeated Yuki Bhambri in the first round, became the tournament’s biggest casualty, losing to Slovenian Aljaz Bedene 7-5, 6-3 on an outside court.
The eighth-seeded Soeda nearly met with the same fate. Amritraj had set-points in the first set, a break-point in the sixth game of the decider, and game-points before he was broken in the contest-turning ninth game. Soeda eventually won 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-4.
Amritraj was playing his fifth match in four days — he later called the scheduling “a travesty” — and he waged a constant battle with fatigue. Soeda, who pressed a bag of ice to his forehead and his neck during changeovers for relief, struggled with the humidity, but he had more in reserve, for this was only his second match in three days.
Amritraj served for the first set at 5-3. But at 40-30, having outmanoeuvred Soeda in a well-worked point, he missed a two-hander, angled short, cross-court, by a small margin. Soeda saved another set point and took the set to a tie-break where he showed why he is currently ranked 60 (490 places above Amritraj, who is returning after a two-year break). His execution was pin-point precise: he stepped nearer the baseline for an advantageous court position and ran Amritraj from side to side. He took the breaker 7-2.
Patches of brilliance
Amritraj had stretches of inspired tennis, even the odd moment of brilliance — a half-volley pick-up off his laces, a thing of rare beauty. But although he never stopped fighting, he had been drained of the physical intensity needed to beat Soeda.
There was something of Soeda in Tipsarevic’s tennis later on, the style refined to its highest level. To the casual fan, the Serb did nothing out of the ordinary. But he did the ‘ordinary’ so well: his movement got him in exactly the right position nearly every time, his recovery between strokes and his anticipation working together; he attacked but seldom over-reached; he got the most out of his serve, both first and second. Tipsarevic later said he was anxious before the match, but not once did it show.
Roger-Vasselin, realising he couldn’t hope to match Tipsarevic in the ‘ordinary’, went for more, erred often, and occasionally tried the extra-ordinary. He had his moments, swiping high backhand volleys and cutting one drop shot just right. But moments don’t a top-ten player beat; the best they do is reduce the margin of defeat.
Wawrinka had to play the sort of opponent no one wants to meet early. Marcel-Stebe has the lefty serve that finds awkward angles; he hits a hard ball, whipping the forehand and sometimes jump-shotting the two-handed backhand; he doesn’t offer the steady rhythm most baseliners do.
Wawrinka saw the threat and addressed it adequately. The Swiss World No. 17 took care of his serve, moving it around the box and making sure he got free points to relieve the pressure. It took him time to get a read on the Stebe serve, but once he had it, the match was as good as won.
The results: Second round: 8-Go Soeda (Jpn) bt Prakash Amritraj (Ind) 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-4; Aljaz Bedene (Slo) bt 6-Robin Haase (Ned) 7-5, 6-3; 2-Janko Tipsarevic (Srb) bt Edouard Roger-Vasselin (Fra) 6-2, 6-3; 4-Stanislas Wawrinka (Sui) bt Cedrik Marcel-Stebe (Ger) 6-4, 6-3. Doubles: First round: Somdev Devvarman (Ind) & Sergiy Stakhovsky (Ukr) bt Robin Haase (Ned) & Igor Sijsling (Ned) 7-5, 6-3; Raven Klaasen (Rsa) & Nicholas Monroe (USA) bt Roberto Bautista Agut (Esp) & Flavio Cipolla (Ita) 6-3, 6-1; Andre Begemann (Ger) & Martin Emmrich (Ger) bt 4-Jamie Delgado (Gbr) & Ken Skupski (Gbr) 7-6 (3), 6-2; 3-Rohan Bopanna (Ind) & Rajeev Ram (USA) bt Yen-Hsun Lu (Tpe) & Go Soeda (Jpn) 6-4, 6-3; 1-Mahesh Bhupathi (Ind) & Daniel Nestor (Can) bt N. Sriram Balaji (Ind) & Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan (Ind) 6-3, 6-0.