When on tours, our names are always accompanied by the country we represent. So when you come out with a win for your country, you win for yourself too. Being the top seed is not a concern but playing a good match definitely is. The bottom line is that I still need to win,” says Somdev Devvarman, India’s Commonwealth Games tennis medal hope.
Devvarman, who is leading India’s singles challenge in the Games and has reached the quarter-finals, is the top seed here, offering the country one of its strongest chances of gold medals in a discipline shorn of big stars.
Rising star: Somdev Devvarman is India’s best singles player. PTI
With Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi playing doubles, and Paes teaming up with Sania Mirza in the mixed doubles, India have a good chance of winning three gold medals from tennis alone. Rohan Bopanna, ranked 587 in the world, and Devvarman, ranked 97, are also teaming up as the second men’s doubles combination. Mirza, playing after four months, is ranked No. 2 in the women’s singles in the Games and is already in the quarter-finals.
With top international players such as Andy Murray of Scotland and Lleyton Hewitt of Australia staying away from Delhi, the Indians can capitalize on their current strong form and a weak line-up to score in tennis’ maiden entry into the Games. One of the men’s coaches, Jaidip Mukherjee, told reporters before the start of the Games that he expected three-four medals.
One medal hope was belied when Bopanna, who was expected to do well given his recent form, lost in the singles to Peter Luczak of Australia, ranked 133 in the world, on Wednesday. But Bopanna and Devvarman are still in with a chance in the doubles.
The Indian players have had a series of creditable achievements over the last few months. Bopanna made it to the US Open doubles final with Pakistani partner Aisam-ul-Haq Quereshi in September and returned to lead India to a 3-2 win over Brazil in Chennai in the Davis Cup. He and Devvarman both won their last two singles matches against higher-ranked players after India was trailing 1-2 going into the last day of the tie.
In August, Devvarman broke into the top 100 of world singles rankings, becoming the second Indian in more than a decade to get into double figures.
Paes with 12 and Bhupathi with 11 doubles and mixed doubles Grand Slam titles (with different partners) are the overwhelming favourites in this event. The two have been unbeaten in 24 straight doubles matches in the Davis Cup. Paes’ last Grand Slam title was in the mixed doubles at Wimbledon this year.
“It gave us a lot of confidence for sure,” said Devvarman of the Davis Cup win. “I was pitted against the top 30 (ranked) players so it definitely gave me a lot of confidence.”
Bhupathi calls Devvarman “the rock” of the side and the Davis Cup win one of India’s most memorable. It’s the sort of success he is hoping will continue here.