It was his instinct for survival that had seen Somdev Devvarman crack the top-70 in the world. Though down to 551 on the ATP rankings list currently, the Indian showed that none of that tenacity had turned to rust during that long injury lay-off forced by a shoulder surgery.
Devvarman saved 13 break points and survived the baseline battle to beat German world No 78 Bjorn Phau 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 in the Melbourne heat and advance to the second round of the Australian Open on Monday to complete his comeback to the top league.
It was also the first time since Leander Paes in 2000 that an Indian men’s player had entered round 2 of the Australian Open.
“It’s always great to win matches, especially at a Grand Slam. Phau is a tough competitor and it feels good to have a win against him,” Devvarman told HT on Monday.
The scoreline suggests it was a walk in the park for the Indian, but given the 33-year-old Phau’s experience and legs-of-a-wrestler, it was anything but, especially in the second set. Devvarman dug himself out of potential pitfalls, when he had to repeatedly ward-off attacks from Phau, and save 10 of those break points in the second set itself. “It was important for me to hold serve to stay on top of this match. I’m glad I was able to save those break points,” said Devvarman.
But the Indian converted six of the nine break opportunities that came his way to stamp his authority on the match. Given that both the players like to play the waiting game, and that they had three unforced errors combined through the match shines a light on the nature of the fight.
“It was a tough match and I think winning a few crucial points tilted the balance in my favour. Overall I played well and I’m reasonably happy with my performance,” he said.
“Taking the necessary time off to ensure my injury had healed completely was super important to me and my coaches. Even now I make sure I don’t do anything to aggravate it. I’ve been working on my serve a lot and I feel it’s an area of my game that has improved.”
The 27-year-old Indian has showed remarkable focus in the face of a stinging Davis Cup controversy back home: what began as a point of debate with the All India Tennis Association has snowballed into a persistent fight and Devvarman was made to justify his stance in the media till a day before his opening round match at the Australian Open.
Devvarman though will need a turbo dose of that resilience when he takes on Jerzy Janowicz in the next round. A relative unknown till three months ago, the Polish player had a breakthrough at the Paris Masters in November, beating the likes of Andy Murray enroute the final of the indoor hard-court event. Ranked 26 in the world, and at 6’8” Janowicz is being considered everything between the next big thing in tennis, literally.
“He’s obviously had a really good 2012 and he’s coming off the momentum from that great season. I’ll have my work cut out,” said Somdev.