Somdev to shoulder Indian hopes

On-song Wawrinka will be the one to look out for

If the season gone by is any guide, then World No. 8 and top seed Stanislas Wawrinka should rightfully begin as the odds-on favourite for the singles tennis title at the 2014 Aircel Chennai Open starting here on Monday.

However, for the home crowd, the attention would be on the trio of Somdev Devvarman, a direct entry, and wild cards Yuki Bhambri and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan. It should be a cause for celebrations should any Indian even make it to the quarterfinals as all have tough draws.

The 28-year old Devvarman, ranked No. 90 and a semifinalist here in 2009, is slated to meet a qualifier in the first round, and a possible clash with Spaniard Marcel Granollers, World No. 38, in the second.

Should the Indian Davis Cup star come through, then he is likely to go up against fourth-seeded Frenchman Benoit Paire, World No. 26.

Bhambri, the 21-year old from Delhi, goes up against Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta, a year older than the Indian, but among the most improved players on the ATP Tour.

As a qualifier, at Oeiras, Busta reached his first ATP World Tour semifinal, defeating Fabio Fognini in the quarterfinals before losing to Wawrinka in a three-set semis.

Nedunchezhiyan has an uphill task to get past 20-year old Czech Jiri Vesely, the youngest to break into top-100 in 2013. The six-foot, six-inch youngster is ranked 78 while the 25-year old Indian is at 312.

As for the 28-year old Wawrinka, possibly at the peak of his career, coming off a brilliant 2013 season, eventually qualifying for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals where he reached the semifinals before losing to eventual winner Novak Djokovic.

Finishing the year with a 51-23 match record, Wawrinka starts a fresh season hoping to move up the rankings, something he believes is within his ability.

The absence of defending champion Janko Tipsarevic should further smoothen Wawrinka’s passage and also help make up for two disappointing forays here in 2012 and 2013 when he lost in the quarterfinals.

However, the Swiss ace should be wary of dangerous floaters in the draw, notably Aljaz Bedene from Slovenia who tripped Wawrinka in the quarterfinals here last year or Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, the eighth seed and finalist here in the previous edition.

In the doubles action, Rohan Bopanna and Aisam Qureshi, the top-seeded Indo-Pakistan combination, have the ability to go all the way but first up for the duo is last year’s winners — Wawrinka and Paire.

Placed in the bottom half and seeded second is Leander Paes, winner of six doubles titles here with different partners.

This time, the 40-year old Paes has paired up with Fognini and would be looking to bag his 54th doubles title.

Ramanathan advances

Ramkumar Ramanathan, meanwhile, kept his chances of making the main draw alive defeating Mikhail Elgin of Russia 6-3, 7-5 in the qualifying rounds on Sunday.

The other Indian in the fray, Sanam Singh, however, went down 5-7, 5-7 to Frederik Nielsen of Denmark.

Results (Qualifying, 2nd Round): H Laaksonen (Sui) bt G Soeda (Jpn) 7-5, 6-4; N Gombos (Slo) bt D Lajovic (Ser) 2-6, 6-1, 6-4; P Oswald (Aut) bt R Ram (USA) 6-1, 3-6, 7-5; I Marchenko (Ukr) bt A Giannessi (Ita) 6-3, 6-4; R Albot (MDA) bt Z Zhang (Chi) 7-6 (2), 6-3; A Kudryavtsev (Rus) bt K Khachanov (Rus) 7-6(9), 6-3; F Nielsen (Den) bt S Singh (Ind) 7-5, 7-5; R Ramanathan (Ind) bt M Elgin (Rus) 6-3, 7-5.

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