It’s easy for Somdev Devvarman to blend with the crowd of his autograph hunters. Not much older or physically intimidating than his band of supporters, the 24-year-old has gone about his business, hopping from court to court to practice or support his friends, with a goofy grin and easy charm. He is the star of the tournament but hardly exclusive.
And if there is any pressure on staging a repeat of last year’s performance at the Chennai Open, it’s not showing. From one of their own, Somdev became an overnight sensation in Chennai in the first week of 2009 when he defeated Carlos Moya and Ivo Karlovic back to back en route to his first ATP final. The spotlight will again be on him when the 2010 Chennai Open begins on Monday.
Apart from his run to the final in Chennai, Somdev made some breakthroughs in 2009 - entering the top-125 in the world, qualifying for his first Grand Slam at the US Open and most importantly helping India progress to the Davis Cup World Group.
But with players better prepared for him now, the second full year on tour could be tougher. To begin with, he opens his campaign against veteran German Rainer Schuettler, who has mastered the art of attrition through 16 years on the pro tour.
“People say the second year on tour is tougher, some say the third year is tougher, you never know,” said Somdev on Sunday. “What I know is that I have got more experienced and am playing better than I ever have. I came here early to practice and have trained during both, the day and night. It’s like playing in two different places, given the way the conditions change.”
Fitness has been the cornerstone of Somdev’s game, and the Indian put in the hard yards again in the off-season. He had a three-week training stint with Andy Roddick and his trainer in Austin last month.
“Somdev has had a very good season last year,” said his first-round opponent Schuettler, who had pulled out of the semi-final against Somdev last year with a wrist injury. “He has got a very good game; very solid, there are hardly any weaknesses. He played well here last year and will be favoured by the home crowd.”
Though Schuettler goes into the match as a favourite, the Chennai Open, being the first tournament of the season, has a propensity of throwing up surprises. Chennai, and India, would be hoping for a pleasant one.
Soderling’s first, Moya’s last?
While Robin Soderling will make his debut at the Chennai Open, the tournament may bid farewell to one of its favourites-Carlos Moya.
The Spaniard, champion here in 2004 and 2005, could make his final appearance in India when he opens his campaign against Serbian fourth seed Janko Tipsarevic.
“May be my last, may be not,” said Moya, whose ranking has slipped to 446 since he missed most of last season.
“This is the first tournament I am playing on my comeback so I will see how it goes and set goals for the rest of the year,” added Moya who is paired with Yuki Bhambri in the doubles draw.