Earlier in the week, Somdev Devvarman was warming up by the swimming pool at the RK Khanna Tennis Stadium. In the city to play the last leg of the three weeks of Challengers in the country, his best result had been the semis.
Somdev made a pact with his team — if he won the ONGC-GAIL Delhi Open, they would celebrate by jumping into the pool. "It was a long shot then. I hadn't won a Challenger since 2010 (at Izmir), hadn't made a final in a while…" But all that changed on Sunday. As fans kept looking for the man of the hour, a loud splash was heard by the pool. Yes, it was time for Somdev to celebrate.
The atmosphere at the centre court resembled a Davis Cup outing. Flags waved, songs blared and drums worked up a tempo, the mood was set. It took the second seed a mere 59 minutes to get the scoreboard to read 6-3, 6-1 in his favour.
No matter what Aleksandr Nedovyesov of Kazakhstan tried, he failed. The top seed of the $100,000 event began with such authority that fans felt Somdev would have to go the distance. But, the moment the 29-year-old won his first break point to go up 4-3, thanks to a forehand down the line error on Nedovyesov's part, Somdev gained confidence. "3-3 is always a big game, the last game played with old balls. He missed the first serve and I took advantage," grinned the man, richer by a 100 ranking points.
The win gifted Somdev his third Challenger title but the first where he won without dropping a set. "I don't remember the last time I won a match losing just 10 points on my serve," said Somdev. Yes, once the world No 96 got his first break, there was no holding back. He broke Nedovyesov again to pocket the first set 6-3.
It seemed to resemble a walk in the park when the Kazakh kept making unforced errors, allowing Somdev to go up 5-0 in the second. But he managed to avoid a bagel with a sixth-game win. Somdev didn't leave anything to chance, running down each and every ball. Nedovyesov's forehand error on match point gave Somdev every reason to smile with his team cheering from the stands.
"You don't have this many people supporting you abroad. I don't remember when I had seen this many people in a Challenger. It was like the Davis Cup, but only two sets not five," he joked.
Off to Dubai to play the ATP 500 event, the wildcard entrant takes on Juan Martin del Potro in the first round. "It's a brutal sport. There really is no time to sit back and relax. But this win is definitely a confidence booster ahead of Dubai," he said before heading off to oblige fans, patiently waiting with tennis balls and pieces of paper.