Somdev Devvarman broke India’s 13-year jinx at Roland Garros on Friday, when he qualified for the main draw of the French Open.
After a rough ride in the first set, Somdev, the sixth seed, defeated France’s Adrian Mannarino 6-4, 6-1 in the final qualifying round to clinch a berth in the 128-man main draw. He becomes the first Indian, since Leander Paes in 1997, to play in the men’s singles event.
“Som’s game is ideal for slower surfaces and his ability to retrieve the dying ball makes it tough for his opponents to wear him down. The French Open clay is different as it is really fine and grabs the ball, which in turn makes the ball sit up. That makes for a very slow surface requiring very strong legs. It’s good to see the way he recovered from the tough first round and then get through the next two comparatively easier,” said Paes.
Ramesh Krishnan played in eight editions at Roland Garros from 1979-90; his best performance coming in 1982 when he reached the third round.
“You need to play enough on clay and also have to learn to use the full court -- play short, angles etc. It is not easy to blow your opponent off the court,” he said. “It’s fantastic that Somdev has qualified.”
A focus on fitness, rather than flair, had always meant that Somdev was the likeliest of the lot to add steel to India’s chances on clay. Having missed out on a berth in the main draw by a round last year, the Indian didn’t suffer any slips on the red dirt this time.
Though he lost the first set to veteran Jiri Vanek in his first match, Somdev has gone on to win six sets on the trot.
It looked like he had a battle on his hands when he took on Mannarino on Friday. The Frenchman is currently ranked 289, to Somdev’s 109, but was placed at 88 in the ATP rankings till last September, before an injury sidelined him.
Mannarino broke Somdev’s serve in the first game itself and had the better of the exchanges at the beginning of the set. But after the sixth game, when the Indian brought it level for 3-3, it was a case of who would break first. In the 10th game, while serving to stay in the set, the Frenchman succumbed to the pressure.
Having wrenched away the first set in 58 minutes, Somdev breezed through the second in 27 minutes to secure his French Open main draw debut. He had qualified for the US Open last year, making it to the 2nd round.
Though the men’s draw was announced on Friday, the 16 qualifiers will be slotted in only once the qualifying tournament is over.