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Som thing, better than nothing

"I have to become a lot stronger and fitter," said Somdev Devvarman, the most physically adept Indian tennis player to emerge after Leander Paes, after his 4-6, 6-7 (3) loss to Marin Cilic in his maiden ATP final. Sukhwant Basra reports.
By Sukhwant Basra | Hindustan Times, Chennai
UPDATED ON JAN 12, 2009 11:56 AM IST

"I have to become a lot stronger and fitter," said Somdev Devvarman, the most physically adept Indian tennis player to emerge after Leander Paes, after his 4-6, 6-7 (3) loss to Marin Cilic in his maiden ATP final. This man who has, in the span of a week, redefined Indian hopes in men's tennis stays humble despite his achievement. That he hungers to move even quicker makes it all the more easy to say that this was just the promo, the real Devvarman show will be in the future.

The match, for once, went according to form with the world number 27 prevailing on sheer force of serve and aggression from the ground. Somdev had ten break points in the course of the two-hour encounter. He converted one. The other prudent bit to note was that in response, Cilic fired five first serves and those were in the vicinity of 210 kph.

In all his earlier matches here, Devvarman owned the baseline stakeouts. That strength was taken away from him by the Croat third seed who fired aggressive off the ground and retrieved balls that should have died away. The inability to step up and put away the short balls consistently hurt the Indian, as did a constant spray of strokes that lacked in depth and plonked too many times in the juicy service line region. That, in turn, allowed Cilic to keep stepping on the gas and dictate the pace. A double fault to give away the first set followed by a break at love in the second game of the subsequent one made it appear that the monster of nerves had devoured our man's nerve.

Hope sprung afresh when after a 2-5 deficit in the second, Devvarman clawed back to break in the ninth game to put the match back on an even kneel with serve. At 4-5 he would serve out his only love game to hold and Cilic suddenly looked like the 20-year-old he is instead of the 6'6" giant of the game. With no first serves and his only double fault of the match popping up to allow Devvarman two breakpoints and a chance to get ahead for the first time in the encounter, Cilic looked vulnerable. Interestingly enough, he missed the first serve on both the points but Devvarman was unable to hurt him. Cilic fired two of his total of nine aces in the tiebreak to close, for now, Devvarman's portal to the exalted world of ATP winner.

In the end, not everything was sweet but it was decidedly savoury to witness the coming of age of the man who can give us the hope of more than just doubles wins on the world stage.

That he talks straight and hits hard also raises hope that this one will not get enmeshed in the pettiness of ego that has stunted Indian tennis for so long.

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