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First serve: Som shoulders curtain call for India

sports Updated: Mar 05, 2010 01:52 IST
Sukhwant Basra

The joy’s been sapped away from Davis Cup draws ever since it became mandatory that on the opening day the number one player meets number two and vice versa. Now, it’s just about who gets the first shot.

That bit fell India’s way as our top gun Somdev Devvarman (ranked 128) will be unleashed against world

number 38 Igor Andreev, who is more famous in tennis circles for being the boyfriend of Maria Kirilenko.

That bit need not take away anything from the Russian who cracks a mean forehand and has a vicious kick serve that allows him to open the court to unleash his main weapon. No matter how the contest goes, it’s going to be an absorbing contest between two diametrically opposite styles of play. It’s the classic slugger versus the aggressor fare on offer.

“Somdev’s our main player. Rohan coming through in South Africa was a bonus but that’s not happened too often. As such, Som playing the first match allows him to swing freely without the possibility of being a match down weighing on him,” says Indian coach Nandan Bal.

Another positive aspect is that Devvarman has the best off-court training regime of any Indian tennis player.

He probably works harder in the gym that any other Indian player has in the past. He’ll need every bit of those legs to be able to crowd Andreev’s kick serve and keep him from dictating the pace.

A knock on the indoor hardcourt confirmed one’s worst fears. The top-spun ball sits up while the slice refuses to slip and slide away. The flat ball does not rise too much.

To sum up — matches will go the way of those who will be able to keep reaching down for the ball and churning it back across for a solid three hours.

Mikhail Youzhny is world number 13. As if that ranking is not fearsome enough, the Russian rips the ball off both flanks. His contest against Rohan Bopanna (ranked 416) will be a battle of wills as both are counter punchers. It will be a fight between two similar styles of tennis.

The moot question on which this match hinges is as to just how much ammo Bofors is carrying.

Bopanna’s big serve earned him that nickname and if he fires hard enough, he has a chance. And against a player of Youzhny’s calibre, the boom will have to reverberate the length of the match. Anything that just pops over the net will be chomped up by the Russian.

The slow, grainy court that grabs the ball negates a lot of Bopanna’s bite but at the same time it allows Devvarman to reach for more balls and keep the rallies alive longer.

On paper, despite the Russian superiority in rankings, the tie is evenly poised. Friday will reveal how the scales tip.