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Lee vs Hesh again in India’s top event

Veterans Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi with partners in tow will again be the Indians to follow in the 13th edition of the ATP event, reports Sukhwant Basra.

sports Updated: Jan 04, 2009 23:54 IST
Sukhwant Basra

Doubles is this foster child in tournaments across the world. Most promoters want little to do with it, fans are largely apathetic towards the format that rewards reflex and skill far more than the guttural slug that hardcourts have shaped the modern singles game into. But in Chennai at the Chennai Open, prime time centre court is at full capacity because our big boys frolic best at twosomes.

Veterans Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi with partners in tow will again be the Indians to follow in the 13th edition of this ATP event. The crucial aspect will be just how much the lay-off since the Shanghai Masters in November’s second week matters.

Paes comes in from a long vacation with family while Bhupathi toiled in a three-week camp at Bangalore. His coach Scott Davidoff and fitness trainer Simon Giles would surely have put him through the grind. It was a similar camp that saw Bhupathi race get 2008 off to an incredible start after being away from the tour for 12 weeks in 2007 on account of a back operation. Top-seeded with Mark Knowles, Bhupathi will be hungry and looking to explode into another season.

Then there's Somdev Devvarman, the new flavour in our eternal quest for the next big thing in Indian men's tennis. Till now, the record-making double NCAA title winner has been unable to soak up the pressure that comes from playing at home. The Davis Cup outing against Uzbekistan last February with the pressure of chanting crowds and expectations of a nation proved a bit of a dampener on his whipped groundies.

Still, Devvarman has the best work ethic and off-court programme out of the present lot, just how he has matured to perform to expectations will be his most crucial ask in Chennai.

Prakash Amritraj meanwhile, has his seventh consecutive wildcard into this event. His best showing till now has been a second round thrust when he bettered Harsh Mankad in 2004. Last year he went down to qualifier Alexandre Kurdyavstev in a third-set tiebreak in what was perhaps his best chance given the luck of the draw. Fortune has been fickle this time around with the Greek-God physique sporting fifth seed Rainer Schuettler waiting to pounce in Round 1.

Perhaps the best thing about the Chennai Open is its sheer longevity. There have been proposals, posers and postures enough as far as big-league tennis in India goes. AITA keeps talking but that's just talk. Globosport tried but fell flat after a few years. The Karanataka State Lawn tennis Association has had bursts of enthusiasm but no stamina. IMG alone has managed to sustain a top-notch event in India. More than the dreams that watching great tennis fosters, the Chennai Open offers crucial exposure to India's next rung. How they manage to exploit the opportunity will unfold over this coming week.