The tennis scene in India is discouraging with no youngster holding any promise for the future. Professionalism and easy money in doubles competitions are factors, which are killing the development and nurturing of young talent to play in men’s and women’s singles matches. Even greenhorns, who show some promise initially, are lured by monitory gains to be made in the doubles matches. All they need to do is to find a male or female partner from around the world and enter the numerous doubles competitions. The situation today, is far cry from days, when India was able to produce high quality tennis players. Beginning with Akhtar Ali, Ramanathan Krishnan, Jaideep Mukherjee, Premjit Lal, SP Mishra, Amritraj Brothers, Ramesh Krishnan and up to Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi; there were singles contenders in grand slams and ATP events. On their day, these guys were able to give top world players a run for their money. On the women’s side, Sania Mirza emerged as the lone contender and with great promise, she stayed there for a while, before espousing the doubles game completely. Ironically, the budding entrants learnt their lessons from two prominent predecessors; Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. They watched how the two seniors completely gave up singles and yet became world-famous doubles player. Their earnings shot up by a careful selection of events, where even first-round victories would give them substantial prize money.
Amidst this uncompromising and disheartening scene, Somdev Devvarman has steadfastly refused to fall prey to the teachings of Paes and Bhupathi. Like a lone ranger, he has gone on to compete in the singles matches, wherever he could, and at times with credit. The news came two days back, from Dubai Duty free Championship, currently being played in the desert nation about Somdev recording the biggest win of his tennis career against world no.5 Argentinian Juan Martin Del Potro. Though, the surprise result was attributable more to Del Potro getting injured mid-way through the match, it was not before Somdev had taken the first set from the Argentinian 7-6. The tennis drought in India can be gauged from the statistic that India’s no. 1 player is 78 in ATP rankings. Despite little sponsorship support and encouragement at home, at some time or another, Somdev has still competed at big events. He has already played top guys of tennis like; Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. It is another matter that he couldn’t make any impression against them. The best performances that Somdev has ever put were; against World no. 15, Marin Cilic and World no. 25 Ivo Karlovic, both from Croatia.
As things stand today, the tennis scene in India does not like to improve in near future. In spite of a host of tennis clinics in big cities, there is no such thing as nurturing of world class talent. Leander Paes, who almost stopped playing singles since 1998, has scaled new heights in doubles for the last two decades years, earning millions of dollars in prize money. The same thing holds good for Mahesh Bhupathi. When the duo played as team, they had made a name for themselves and for the country. Later, however, personal prejudices made them find their own separate ways and new partners in men’s and mixed doubles competitions around the world. As per official figures Leander Paes has had 95 different men as his doublesand 23 women as mixed doubles partners at different times in his career. Unfortunately, Paes and Bhupathi became role models for youngsters taking to professional tennis in India. These two are still larger-than-life characters, whose phenomenal success in doubles competitions became a benchmark for India’s young players. There have been sad stories of the bad blood between them, which also led to the formation of two rival camps. Other than affecting the morale of several youngsters, these stories forced upcoming players to take to doubles. Rohan Bopanna was once considered as a natural successor to Paes and Bhupathi but he emulated the two big guys and began playing doubles. At 33 years of age, Bopanna’s current ATP rank is 1354 singles but he is no. 16 in doubles. Talented Yuki Bhambri is only 21 and he has already started playing doubles, though his singles and doubles ranking is nearly same at 146 and 143. Divij Sharan and Purav Raja, both 28 are content to play doubles too, and they were blessed with the entry in Wimbledon doubles last year. Their singles rank is 965 and 898 respectively but in doubles Sharan is ranked 91 and Raja 118. Thanks to Somdev, however, India still has a semblance of presence in men’s singles.