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Doubles best bet for India in French Open

Somdev Devvarman and Sania Mirza will once again shoulder India's hopes in the men's and women's singles in the French Open tennis which got off to a low-pitch start today.

india Updated: May 22, 2011 19:11 IST

Somdev Devvarman and Sania Mirza will once again shoulder India's hopes in the men's and women's singles in the French Open tennis which got off to a low-pitch start on Sunday.

It is the doubles which remains the best bet for the Indians, especially after the reunion of old warhorses Leander Peas and Mahesh Bhupathi and the rise of Rohan Bopanna with Pakistani partner Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi.

None of the star players like Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Caroline Wozniacki and Kim Clijsters were scheduled to play on the opening day with Spaniard David Ferrer and Australian Samantha Stosur the highest seeded players to take to the court this day.

For India, Somdev and Sania have been the only representation from the country in the Grand Slam singles for some time now and this year, too, they will be donning the familiar hats.

Paes and Bhupathi joined hands for the Australian Open this year in a bid to achieve a career Grand Slam and went on to reach the final. The two have been playing together since then, though their tune-up to the French Open has been far from ideal. The two entered in only one tournament, the Rome Masters, but crashed out in the second round after receiving a bye.

History, though, favours the former World No. 1 pair. Their first Grand Slam win came in 1999 and they repeated the feat in 2001, after which they decided to part ways.

While for Bhupathi it was the last doubles title, Paes's continued his love affair with the clay major, winning it with Czech Lukas Dlouhy in 2009 and following it up as a runner-up the next year.

However, the red dirt does not appear to be such a favourite of Somdev and Sania. While Somdev made a first round exit last year after becoming the first Indian since Paes to qualify for French Open in 13 years, Sania has cleared the second round only once in 2007 in four appearances.

This year, both of them have made a significant improvement in their rankings. Somdev, at a career-best ranking of 66, has made a direct entry but he faces a tricky opponent in former World no. 3 Croat Ivan Ljubicic, who is currently ranked 36th.

Things are no better for 74th-ranked Sania, who will play Kristina Barrois in the first round. Barrois reached the final of the Estoril Open in April and is 15 rungs above the Indian.

It is expected to be a good turn-out on the second day on Monday with most of the top seeds making their first round appearances. The rise of Djokovic has changed the dynamics of tennis, which has been ruled by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the last seven years.

The Serb, who is on a 37-match winning streak, is breathing down six times champion Nadal. Djokovic has beaten Nadal in all their four meetings this year, twice on clay, to claim two of his titles.

Nadal and Djokovic are the new rivals on the circuit with Federer, who last won a Grand Slam in 2010 Australian, receding into the shadows. It is dangerous to count out the 16-time Grand Slam champion, who insists he is far from over.

Djokovic opens against Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker at Roland Garros.

Nadal plays big-serving American John Isner while Federer is in the Djokovic half and will have to overcome Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in the first round.

In the women's draw, No.1 seed Wozniacki will face 40-year-old Kimiko Date Krumm in her opener while Clijsters, the no.2 seed who is recovering from an ankle injury, faces Andrea Petkovic.

Third seed Vera Zvonareva of Russia plays Lourdes Dominguez Lino of Spain.

First Published: May 22, 2011 19:09 IST