Tennis at the highest level is chess, albeit with a sledgehammer at call. There are never any absolutes and a player must have moves and counter measures that an evolving game demands. Somdev Devvarman has shown that he has the power in his legs and the oomph in his groundstrokes to move within striking distance of the top-100. This tie has illustrated that he still needs to figure out the chess bit more.
Mikhail Youzhny overpowered and out-thought the Indian to register a clinical 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 victory in a match that lasted an hour and 55 minutes. The match gave this Davis Cup World Group first-round tie to Russia. Rohan Bopanna out played Teimuraz Gabashvili 7-6 (5), 6-4 for a consolation 3-2 scoreline.
Ranked 13 in the world, Youzhny was expected to be a handful. As far as repertoire of strokes is concerned he seemed to have lugged along a tankful — he fired them off at will. The first two sets lasted just over an hour and Devvarman was totally outclassed by the placement and the pace of the Russian. He seemed to get his second wind by the third — which lasted over 50 minutes — but with a two-set lead and ahead at 4-1, Youzhny was in no mood to keep the intercourse going; he was far too solid to be fazed by Devvarman beginning to get his act together and quickly wrapped up with a service game.
Plan B was missing from Devvarman’s plans in the first match, plan B refused to surface till the near-end of this one. The major lacuna in his game here has been an inability to take the ball early. In both the contests, the Russians looked to push him back and then put a soft ball up ahead to make him scamper around like a puppet on a string, especially in Youzhny’s case. From the 19 drop shots that the Russian crafted, Devvarman could manage to win only two points. The deft touch followed by a charge to the net has been the bedrock Russian strategy against him but neither he nor the team think tank could formulate an effective counter-strategy. In the third set on Sunday, he did begin to move up to the ball, hitting it hard enough to get Youzhny’s attention, but the Russian just stepped on the gas a bit more to steamroll through.
While Devvarman’s game is still a work-in-progress, at 25 he is running out of time. The serve works in patches but the delivery lacks the consistent force that his leg bend and leap into the toss promise. The groundstrokes are heavy but still do not have the bite that can hurt top players. Devvarman relies heavily on his legs to chase down everything thrown at him; the throwing bit would get considerably reduced if only he was to follow up the short ball to the net.
India now go to the play-off stage again. But if they could not tame Russia despite two of their best players (Nikolay Davydenko, ranked 3, and Igor Andreev, ranked 38) injured, then they really do not have much chance of doing well in the World Group anyway.