There was no fairytale run for Somdev Devvarman this year. As an unknown entity last time around, the 25-year-old had caught the nation’s imagination en route to his maiden — and only — ATP title round at the Chennai Open. In the intervening period, the highest-ranked Indian had done enough for the home fans to pin their hopes on him. An encore, however, wasn’t going to happen.
After overcoming German veteran Rainer Schuettler in the opening round, Somdev stood exposed against an equally agile, but bigger and powerful Janko Tipsarevic. The Serbian world number 38, in a clinical performance, demolished the Indian in straight sets to drive home the point that Somdev has a lot of catching up to do before he could challenge the best in the business.
To his credit Somdev didn’t offer any excuse for the defeat, fully acknowledging the superiority of his rival. “The way he played, he made me look silly,” said Somdev. It’s this attitude of his that has impressed his coach for the last six months, Scott McCain.
Along with the American, Somdev is ironing out his game, including bringing in some subtle changes to his style of play. “I am making a few changes to my game,” he said before quickly adding, “But guys don’t think I am making an excuse. Please don’t interpret that I lost the game because I am working on my game, he (Janko) played better tennis than me, that’s it.”
As his coach says, Somdev’s agility on court is his biggest strength. His relentless play worked against Schuettler. He was stepping into the court, attacking more and whenever he found a crack, he pushed it open. But up against bigger guys, who will have the shots to wriggle themselves out of tough situations, his swiftness alone won’t be of much use. He needs to negate their power play and it was surprising to see him not come to the net as often as he did against Schuettler.
As was apparent during his loss to Tipsarevic, Somdev’s strategy to involve his rival in long rallies didn’t work and perhaps he would have been better off with a more attacking approach. “He is fast enough to defend well. But I think he should use his forehand – and he has a good forehand -- more in an offensive way than in a defensive way. He should have gone to the net on short balls than staying on the baseline and playing a top spin,” said Tipsarevic after his defeat of the Indian.
This was exactly what McCain too pointed out. “We’re working on recognising opportunities, picking the right balls, attacking the short ball.”
While agreeing that he needed to be more aggressive, Somdev pointed out his game was in a ‘transitional phase’ where he was making more trips to the net than before. “We did a lot of work on the transitional game during the off-season and that is one reason why you guys saw me coming to the net (during Schuettler’s game) much more than I did before. I am also focusing on other aspects of the game like enhancing fitness and modifying my serves,” he remarked.
Reflecting on the year gone by, Somdev said he had some great moments to cherish, but hoped for a better and more consistent season ahead. “In 2009 I had some really good play and then a lot of slumps. I know that I have the ability to play better than I have done so far. I'm going to focus on doing that on a more consistent basis. My intentions are to get better and I am going to be getting better,” he offered.
Somdev’s desire to get into the top-100 received a mighty blow after his second-round exit at the Chennai Open that saw him plummet to below 150 from 126, but the youngster said he wasn’t thinking about the rankings. “That’s not my worry, it’s all about playing good tennis. If I play well, rankings will take care of themselves. My rankings are going to be better than what they are today and to get to that, I need to be consistent and that is what I am trying to do. I probably have to work harder and hopefully I will do well in the Australian Open,” he elaborated.
With India poised to take on Russia in the Davis Cup World Group tie in March this year, a lot obviously hinges on Somdev doing well.