The smile never vanishes. Sometimes it hints at a grimace. But after more than two years on the tour, soaking up tough blows from some of the best in the business, Somdev Devvarman still looks like the wide-eyed kid living his dream. 2010 saw him break into the top-100 on the ATP charts, and bring laurels to the country with a gold in the Delhi Games. He bettered it by winning a golden double at the Asiad. Excerpts:
You had a very good year individually, but you really excelled while playing for India.
I feel really lucky to be given the opportunity. Since I was part of college tennis, I thrive on the team atmosphere. It's great to have the whole team, the support staff rooting for you. So instead of one, you have 15 persons to share your success with. It feels great.
Does it get lonely on the tour?
Sometimes. You have some friends on the tour, but I guess we all just have to be professional about it.
The life tennis players lead, is it kind of necessary to have an individualistic streak?
In many ways, I think it's like any other job. You always need to give yourself the best opportunity and prioritize what you want in life. Yeah, I do miss out on some things, just the same way a lot of professionals do. This is where my passion is, and the people around me understand that.
What are the goals you've set for yourself this year?
Last year, I broke into the top-100, but have been in and out. I need to be more consistent. This year I am working towards making it into the top-75 or top-50.
Is it easy to get tangled into the whole numbers game?
You try not to. That's why you need the right people around you, have the right coaches, who can tell you where exactly you are going wrong. For me, not being able to stay in the top-100 consistently is frustrating because it's something I really want to achieve. I was ranked 94 and have to try to keep improving.
You had a delayed start since you opted to go to the university. For most, 25 is mid-career. Do you think you need to make that big move now?
Obviously, I am trying to make that leap. That's what I am here for. I have been on the tour for only two-and-a-half years. 2011 is the best I have felt coming in to a season. I am hoping for a good year; I think I have gained enough experience, know what's good for me.
Unlike most sportspeople, tennis players play only one or two weeks in their own country.
What people don't realize is the time we have to spend away from home. I must have spent only about 10 days with my family. I play 30 weeks, which is incredible, but you can't exactly take it easy during off weeks. It's rare for athletes to play for such a short time at home. That's what makes it special. I wouldn't want to start my year anywhere but here.