A look at the draws of the 17th edition of India’s lone ATP event tells the depressing story of Indian tennis. In singles, the lone entry on merit is that of Somdev Devvarman.
The 26-year-old spent the larger part of the last few months trying to sort out a persistent shoulder injury. He is far from top form. Then, he has a tough first round against Eric Prodon of France, who at 97 in the world rankings is below Devvarman’s 84, but may prove to be harder to cow than what mere numbers would imply.
That the winner of the two runs into world No 17 and defending champion Stanislas Wawrinka makes things look all the tougher.
Vishnu Vardhan (312 in the world) and Yuki Bhambri (345) have been awarded wild cards that offer them a chance to strut their stuff on a stage far bigger than what has been their domain so far. Success in tennis on the men’s professional tour has a lot to do with skill level but, even more so, it hinges on the legs. Frankly, it is yet to be known whether the two have the muscle to power and tough enough sinews to stitch together a credible challenge. Given that both do not have off-court regimes monitored by world-class trainers, it remains to be seen if the legs are up to the ask.
The one Indian who had a credible chance in the qualifying rounds was Rohan Bopanna. However, a 6-7 (2), 6-7 (2) loss to Japan’s Go Seda ended that hope.
Bopanna, however, is the central character in the latest round of the Leander Paes-Mahesh Bhupathi drama (See pg 16: For Paes, all that you can leave behind is history). His pairing with Bhupathi and Paes teaming up with Janko Tipsarevic has spiced up this event for Indian fans. In separate halves of the draw, the two pairs can only clash in the final. But if that does come around, yippee dippy do, what a sumptuous encounter that promises to be!
Year after year, this tournament comes along and India waits in anticipation of the kind of miracle that Devvarman pulled off in 2009. As a wild card, the man from Tripura had stormed into the final. When asked as to whether he saw any Indian figuring in the same league as Devvarman soon, Paes was categorical: “No.” He went on to explain: “We need to give our players much more support. We do not have the kind of support system that’ll keep churning out players.”
While the national tennis federation has been campaigning successfully with the Sports Ministry to get funds sanctioned for some of our players, there is a marked inability to raise its own money. Given that there is hardly a world-class sports science centre in India or, for that matter, trainers, tennis players can only mushroom if they have adequate funds to tap the fertile minds available abroad.
For this edition of the Chennai Open, it’s doubles alone that seems likely to give home fans some cause to cheer. It’s sad that veterans continue to bear the expectations. That, however, is the only truth right now.