'The first Indian since Leander Paes'. That is a line that peppers Somdev Devvarman's tennis resume. Wednesday night made for another similar comparison. The 25-year-old is set to make his way into the top-100 in the singles rankings — the first Indian man since Paes dropped out of the elite club in June 1999.
Following his victory over fellow qualifier Steve Johnson (6-4, 6-4) in the first round of the ATP event in Los Angeles, Devvarman is set to pass into the double-digit rankings zone. And in a way, his latest achievement exemplifies the course his journey on the tour has taken: not spectacular, but measured and steady.
"It's about time!" reacted Paes. "As I have said enough times before, Som is the one for the future. He's hard working and it's important that he hones his game as he is also India's main Davis Cup player now."
Though a promising junior, the Indian took an academic break, going to the University of Virginia and only then meandered back into the professional tennis fold. His back-to-back NCAA titles in college had already set the bar high, and Devvarman has used every bit of his commitment and muscle to inch it even higher. He ended 2008 ranked 204 and after one full year on tour, he had edged to 126. When the rankings list is announced on Monday, Devvarman will be assured a top-100 berth.
Having qualified for the main draw in LA last year as well, he had 12 points to defend this week. Devvarman has superseded that by gathering 32 points in the event so far, which puts him within reach of the 100th player on the list: Spaniard Pablo Andujar, with 534 points.
The Indian will face Serbia's world no. 45 Jankko Tipsarevic in the second round on Thursday. And irrespective of the results, for the first time since Paes dropped out of the top-100, in June 99, an Indian will feature in that ranking bracket.