India’s Sania Mirza and Somdev Devvarman have already had a successful U.S. Open only one day into the year’s last Grand Slam tournament thanks to impressive first-round triumphs for each on Monday.
In a historic double for their homeland, Sania defeated Olga Govortsova of Belarus 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, while qualifier Somdev downed Portugal’s Frederico Gil 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 to reach the second round on the Flushing Meadows hardcourts.
“I’m really happy we have two players in the second round of a Grand Slam.” Sania said. “For a long time I was the only player in singles draws at the Grand Slams. It’s great Somdev is playing well.”
Wonderful few days
Mirza said it was wonderful few days for Indian sport as the milestone in New York followed the success of the Force India Formula One team, which secured pole position for last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix before the outfit’s Giancarlo Fisichella finished the race in second place.
“It’s great,” she said. “Things are looking up. They have been for awhile now, but I guess they’re looking further up.”
Sania, who has struggled after a right wrist injury last year, went 1-5 in one 2009 stretch but fought through the pain and fear of a career-threatening injury to the Birmingham semifinals in June and an important U.S. Open victory.
“The toughest thing is to get that first win under your belt,” Sania said. “Under the circumstances I’m just happy I can come through that match and get off to a good start. To me it has already been successful.”
Somdev, a two time U.S. college champion who reached the Chennai final in his hometown back in January, reached a Slam main draw for the first time in four tries with three qualifying wins, then made the most of his opportunity.
“I finally qualified for a Slam and won a match,” Somdev said. “I really dug in there, didn’t get tight. I competed well. That’s what gets you through those tough ones - the way you compete.
“I don’t want to jinx myself but I feel good about where I am. I’ve had a couple of quality wins. It gives me a lot of confidence and belief that I can come out and compete with anyone. My game is up there with the rest.”
Somdev, ranked 162nd, will next face Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Sania, ranked 74th, faces a tough second-round test against Italian 10th seed Flavia Pennetta. “I’m happy with the way I’m playing,” Sania said. “Physically I’ve never been fitter in terms of the way I’m moving on the court and playing in matches.
“I came up with the big shot that I needed to have. I have that big weapon when I need to use it.”
Sania, 24, is finally over her injury and ready to make a run at her career-high ranking of 27th from 2007.
Major problem gone
“I’m at that stage where I’m ready to go up again and go into the New Year with confidence,” Sania said. “The major wrist problem is finally gone. It’s about trying to stay as injury-free as possible.
“It was hurting me on basically every shot, even picking up a fork at one point. You don’t realise how much you miss playing tennis until you think you might not be able to play again. That made me really grow as a person.
“I appreciate it more being on a tennis court now.”
Sania is engaged to Sorab Mirza, their already-shared last name a happy coincidence — “I always tell him that’s the only reason I’m marrying him,” Sania joked — but no wedding date has been set. “We’re not in a hurry,” she said.
Somdev, 24, was three points from qualifying when rain hit and forced him to return 21 hours later to achieve his first Slam draw.
“I had some matches coming into today and I think that helped,” Somdev said. “I put in some really good training. Fitness is the strength of my game. Hopefully I will keep that going.”
After one year of adapting to the pro ranks, Somdev said the worst of those times is behind him.
“It has been an emotional roller-coaster for me,” he said. “You are dealing with a lot of adversity but it makes you better. You keep fighting.”