Fresh wave on court

terrific together Yuki Bhambri (top left), Somedev Devvarman (right) and Rohan Bopanna did a great job for India against South Africa.  AFP

The signs were obvious when Somdev Devvarman, him of tireless legs and never-say-die attitude, dislodged former World number one and Spaniard Carlos Moya and then the big-serving Croatian Ivo Carlovic en route to final of the Chennai Open early this year. But in the days that followed, he slipped into indifferent form, failing to match the expectations he raised in a city he calls his hometown. 

The 24-year-old’s moment of reckoning, however, wasn’t to be denied for long. Soon after his second-round entry into the US Open Grand Slam, Somdev led India to a stirring win over South Africa last week in Johannesburg in the Davis Cup World Group play-off, powering India into the elite World Group after a gap of 11 years. Somdev’s five-set win over Rik De Voest that sealed the issue in India’s favour came in not too dissimilar a fashion to the victory that piloted India into World Group over a decade ago. Mahesh Bhupathi had then won the decisive fifth rubber in 1997 against Chile, when he defeated Gabriel Silberstein after being down two sets.

The win was significant in more ways than one for, it came with the doubles duo, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, contributing precious little in India’s progress. Paes didn’t play the tie because of injury while Bhupathi was forced to pull out, also because of injury during the doubles tie. For long, India had been able to keep their heads just above water thanks to Paes’ singles and his doubles exploits in the company of Bhupathi. But with both of them on the wrong side of 30 and increasingly becoming injury-prone, the question that had been lingering was who will stand up to the challenge and keep India’s status as Asia’s tennis powerhouse. Last week’s performance in the Protean land may well have answered those questions.   
   
 “One thing that satisfies me is India's tradition has been maintained,” said Indian tennis legend Ramanathan Krishnan, commenting on the win over South Africa. “After our era, Vijay Amritraj and Ramesh Krshnanan kept the momentum going. Then came Paes and Bhupathi and now we have Somdev, (Yuki) Bhambri and (Rohan) Bopanna,” said Krishnan, happy in knowledge that Indian tennis was in safe hands.
 It was not just Somdev’s show that was heart-warming, the wins scripted by Bopanna and the young Bhambri were equally encouraging. After a long time, at least on the evidence of what the trio dished out in Johannesburg, India can go into a tie hoping for their players to pull off three singles wins even in the case of a no show from Paes and Bhupathi.    
  
“I must say that Indian tennis is in a happy state of affairs today as far as men’s game is concerned,” gushed Krishnan. “For the first time in a long, long time we have found players who can win singles matches and we don’t necessarily have to depend on doubles wins. We have found two exciting young talents and coupled with Rohan Bopanna, they augur well for the future,” he added.

India have had their classicists in Krishnans and Amritrajs, a tenacious fighter in Paes and the explosive Bhupathi. But Somdev is in a different mould; he is neither an artist on court nor does he possess the power to sweep his opponents off their feet. What he does have in abundance is a great self-belief; a kind of player Indian tennis has been waiting to have. Currently ranked 133 in the ATP rankings, Somdev doubtless is a top-100 material. And if he can pull off a surprise here and there and remain injury-free, he can even break into top-50.

“Somdev is a good competitor and a great fighter. He has this great attitude of not giving up at any stage. I think he will further improve his game as he keeps on playing. He needs to learn volleying and learn to attack the net. These things again can’t be taught by a coach, he has to learn it on his own and what I have seen of him, he sure will,” pointed out Krishnan.

 Somdev deserves all the praise he is showered with for carrying the team on his shoulders. After giving India the head start with a win in the opening singles, it was 24-year-old who won the marathon fourth rubber in four hours and 44 minutes to clinch the tie for India with a match to spare. However, the significance of Bopanna’s win over Voest in the second singles that gave India a 2-0 cushion need to be highlighted as well. For, despite the doubles’ setback the next day, India still held a psychological 2-1 lead going into the final day.

 Yuki Bhambri’s win in the dead rubber was the perfect icing on the cake for the Indian campaign and hopefully the trio will continue to build on the success, for, very few things fire the imagination of an Indian tennis fan like a Davis Cup win.

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