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No sting in the serves?

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THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT Somdev Devvarman and (in the foreground) Sanam Singh at the Chennai Open
THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT Somdev Devvarman and (in the foreground) Sanam Singh at the Chennai Open

Why didn't the Indian players make a mark at the recent Chennai Open?

With a trickle of marquee players at the Chennai Open, Indian hopes were always going to be given the short shrift.

The draw that pit Somdev Devvarman, the highest ranked Indian in the fray, in the same quarter as Carlos Moya, Janko Tipsarevic and Rainer Schuettler, pegged his chances of repeating the run he enjoyed last year, in the region of the statistically imponderable.

Yuki Bhambri, highly thought of in the junior circuit but yet to cut his teeth with the men, and Prakash Amritraj, 26 and currently sitting at 200 in the world rankings, brought up the flanks.

Bhambri lost out in the final round of qualifying for the singles event, but partnering Moya, kept the crowd's interest flickering with a quarter-final exit in the doubles. Amritraj came through the qualifiers with a typical blow hot-blow cold routine that saw him pound in aces and serve three feet wide in the same game.

The run of three matches “gave me a good work out. My game got better with each qualifying round. It is nice practice before the main event,” he said.

The predictable lack of consistency saw him crash out in the first round, which left Somdev the only Indian in the singles draw. Somdev, through to the second round after a straight-sets defeat of Rainer Schuettler, went down tamely to eventual semi-finalist Tipsarevic.

“There is a reason he is ranked quite high. I didn't get my serves in as much as I would have liked. More than my game falling apart, he played well,” he said after the encounter.

“Where to from here” asked a journalist, and Somdev, in a tone poised somewhere between jest and genuine irritation said, “Excuse me, I am not done here yet. I still have the doubles matches to go. I know you guys think I just say stuff, but volleying and playing at the net and covering the baseline in a doubles game does help my singles play a lot.”

The doubles arena

So the focus then moved on to the doubles arena where along with Somdev and Sanam Singh, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna were plying their trade. The media needn't have bothered asking ‘Hesh' about his impending quarterfinals match, for the answer, by then, was worn to the bone with use.

“I am taking it one match at a time,” he said. In what turned out to be a sad prognosis of his fate in the tournament, Bhupathi went on to say, “I've been playing for close to 15 years and I've lost to people I shouldn't dream about losing to and it has also happened the other way,” he added.

Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski put it past Bhupathi and Bhambri, but it was not completely unexpected, at least among the journeymen, as Tipsarevic pointed out later in an interview: “They are a very good doubles pair, but the Wilson ball gets bigger later on in the day. It becomes difficult to hit winners. It also takes the sting out of serves,” he said. Maybe the combination of toothless serves and poor purchase for the ground-strokes worked in the Indian pair's disfavour.

Super tie-breaks

Another factor that this time went against both Indian pairs was the super tie-breaks, or rather, their own underperformance in them. With scores tied at two-sets all in the doubles game, the newly enforced super tie-break, where the team that reaches ten points first takes the match, comes into play. “With the super tie-breaks it is 50-50. You never know how it is going to come out, but I am not against it,” said Bopanna, but it proved to be the nemesis of both pairs.

Meanwhile, in what provided a bit of off-court cheer, the TNTA announced it would appeal to the sports ministry to speed up the paper work that could see the likes of Prakash Amritraj and Rajeev Ram represent the country in the near future.

RAAKESH NATRAJ

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