In the world of modern singles tennis, which has become a slugfest, doubles maintained its integrity. But with changes in scoring patterns and introduction of heavier balls, it was a matter of time before the momentum shifted.
Take last season, for example. With the touch and angles, speed of the game and craftiness diluted, it was a fair game for the big hitters. As Leander Paes explained sometime ago, “People are going for everything now. The guys who are doing well are not necessarily the most technically sound or crafty… It’s become a slugfest.” There were no dominating teams, every week throwing up different winners. No teams are permanent barring certain exceptions.
However, finding a doubles partner is not an easy task. The chemistry has to be right, the comfort factor is necessary and of course, good results. When Divij Sharan and Purav Raja decided to play together in 2013, their partnership resulted in one Challenger victory and a maiden ATP 250 title in Bogota.
However, poor results and family emergencies saw them split the following year. Floating around, testing new partnerships, they realised it was together that they played best. Reuniting last season saw almost instant results --- four Challengers, two back-to-back in fact, and a second ATP 250 title at Los Cabos. Add to that three ATP 250 semifinal finishes and a huge jump in rankings, it was definitely their best-ever year. While Divij reached a career-high of 61, Purav was close behind at 65.
At the Aircel Chennai Open, India’s only ATP 250 event, the duo got rid of Paes and Andre Sa in the opening round to set the tone. Playing on the first court on Friday evening, Divij and Purav took on the second-seeded Argentine pair of Guillermo Duran and Andres Molteni for a place in the doubles final.
They didn’t disappoint the sparse crowd. With Purav changing up his strong serves during the tactical I-formation for an element of surprise and Divij’s quick hands at the net, carefully placing drop shots out of the opponents’ reach, the Indian duo worked in tandem.
They raced through 6-4, 6-2 at the SDAT Stadium to reach the first final of the season. Whether they meet the Indian pair of Rohan Bopanna and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan or the Nicholas Monroe-Artem Sitak combine, will be decided on Saturday in the second semifinal.
The camaraderie was evident. The smiles didn’t subside in tricky situations (for example, when Purav lost serve twice in the second set), instructions of ‘yours’ and ‘mine’ were clearly defined and good shots rewarded with pumped fists or high fives. The fans lapped it up with selfie and autograph hunters queuing up after the victory.
A right-left combination is gold in doubles, but like the Bryan brothers, lefty Divij plays on the deuce court with Purav on the ad side. “Doubles has changed… I’ve played on the left before but with Purav it’s on the right,” Divij explained. “It gives us both forehands in the middle which is beneficial,” Purav pips in.
It’s only the first tournament of the long 2017 season. The focus is obviously on Grand Slam entries and higher rankings (they want to get into the top 30). Divij and Purav have one more match to go before they can relax just a bit. But not too much. After all, next up is the Australian Open main draw.
Doubles SF: Purav Raja/Divij Sharan bt Guillermo Duran/Andres Molteni (Argx2) 6-4 6-2
Singles QF: Dudi Sela (Isr) bt Albert Ramos-Vinolas (Espx3) 7-5 6-4; Benoit Paire (Frax5) bt Aljaz Bedene (GBR) 6-3 6-0; Daniil Medvedev (Rus) bt Josef Kovalik (Svk) 6-1 6-4