The year 2008 is on its way out and events in the Indian tennis circuit have brought in fabulous news for the country. It seems the new heir to the last great singles players- Vijay Amrtitraj and Ramesh Krishnan from the distant 80’s has finally arrived. With a lot of weeks left in the ‘Challenger’ level left there is steeper ascent that the new heir can do. I am talking about Somdev Verman who has taken over as the new Indian number one on the ATP circuit.
With a strenuous climb to 201 this week from the low rungs of the top 500, Somdev has come up brilliantly and at an astonishingly fast pace to the lower rungs of the big league. What establishes the fact that he is made of better material than most talented Indians is that he has enjoyed a continued string of success in tournaments held in the mine field called USA. He has won over credible opponents on every surface including clay (traditionally a weak surface for Indians) and at one point of time he had not lost a set on clay court tournaments in about a stretch of four weeks.
His career, honed with complete conviction in USA’s super competitive college circuit, where he won the tournament two years in a row, has prepared him for the greater challenges on the ATP Circuit. Greater tasks begin next year for him when he begins his active participation in the Qualifying rounds in the various ATP events and the Grand Slams. Going by history none of the Indians in fray has yet conquered this particular labyrinth. Yet he has shown signs of tremendous promise.
Among the men the other noteworthy name can only come from Prakash Amritraj in the singles stream where he reached the final of an ATP event, though a Tier IV event, but a handsome accomplishment for the under achieving Indian. In recent times this heavily injury prone talent seems to have regrouped and began yet again an upward ride in the rankings and stands now at 214. None of the Indians in the ATP rankings made any right noises this season which missed the services of the very talented Karan Rastogi due to severe injury.
We had a lot to celebrate in the men’s doubles arena with both Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupati creating a very consistent season amongst themselves with their respective partners (thankfully they have had consistent pairings this year). Both penetrated deep into each of the Grand Slams and finally culminated with Paes reaching the final of the US Open men’s final. Both qualified for the Shanghai Masters Series as a part of the top 8 teams of the year and are currently playing there. In addition to the above, both these stalwarts won ATP events in regularity. The low point might have been the Olympic dampener but the excuse that they came against a superiorly inspired Roger Federer does stand. Rohan Boppanna also had a memorable season ending in the top 50 in the doubles with a final appearance in at St. Petersburg, a venue where a premier ATP event is held.
Leander Paes also won the US Open mixed doubles tournament with world number one doubles player Cara Black. It was a grand victory following the very festive drive of Mahesh Bhupati and Sania Mirza into the final of the Australian Open in the beginning of this year. If this is a healthy indication then the moment an all Indian team winning a Grand Slam mixed doubles crown would not be far.
In the women’s section Sania Mirza had quite the ride in the beginning of the year. A successful Australian Open where she was seeded in all the three vents she entered, proved to be her benchmark this season. She gave quite a remarkable performance at Melbourne most particularly in singles where she gave Wimbledon champion Venus Williams quite the run and scare before wilting under pressure. She held her own in her three set loss to the current number one Jelena Jankovic in Dubai before she made it big in the Miami tournament against the likes of Shahar Peer and Daniela Hantuchova. She also did well in doubles with her partners Alicia Molik and _. What cut her season short was another dreadful injury in the long line of injuries. This time it was her wrist and also her ugly ‘Flag’ controversy along with her non participation at the Bengaluru event did her no good. After a good recovery she seems to be on her way back and begins next year at an exhibition event at Hong Kong China.
Apart from Sania, Sunitha Rao made some noises here and there but remained dormant otherwise. Surprisingly the next big talent Tara Iyer disappeared from the very face of the WTA rankings. Her absence is a little disappointing because she has the talent and the conviction to be in the big league.
Among the juniors Yuki Bhambri made every step of his memorable. Not only did he make an impression at the junior circuit around the world and ended the year as among the top 5 in singles but he also played impressively in the Challenger circuit with assurance. Among the girls Poojashree and Kyra Shroff made heads turn with her performance. They are ones to look out for in the future.
What to expect in 2009?
Well, hoping that Somdev Verman makes it to the top 100 along with some good Grand Slam finishes along with some impressive showing by the very under achieving Prakash Amritraj, it is time he delivers on the promises made by his talent. 2009 will see Sania Mirza back, fighting fit to deliver some powerful results. It must be noted that she does deliver in the odd years (2005, 2007) and sees a downfall in the even years (2006, 2008). We also hope that the troika of Mahesh Bhupati, Leander Paes and Rohan Boppanna consistently deliver specially at the big events. It is time for them to pick up the silver ware at the big events. In 2009 we also hope that the injured Karan Rastogi makes it back in the circuit with some good news. 2009 will see Yuki Bhambri make his Junior Grand Slam strides and we do hope they are big, bright and hopeful.
We expect a good 2009, a hopeful one.