Indian tennis finds new torchbearer in Somdev
New Delhi: Emergence of a new men`s singles hope in Somdev Devvarman and resurgence of an injury-ravaged Sania Mirza were the highlights of a memorable 2010 for Indian tennis, which ended with the promise of more success in the coming season.
The country can now look upon Somdev to be the sport`s torchbearer in men`s singles while the doubles scene also brightens up with the estranged pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi reuniting next year -- ending a nine-year separation on the ATP circuit.
But if there was one star to be picked for the year, it has to be Somdev. The lad from Assam had a dream run, impressing with his gritty performances everywhere he competed.
Being in and out of the top-100 ranking, Somdev reached a career high of 94 this October and justified his growing stature at the international arena.
He ended the year on a perfect note, thrashing top seed and much higher-ranked Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan to become the first Indian to win a tennis singles gold medal at the Asian Games.
The victory also made the 25-year-old one of the most celebrated Indian athletes in the Asian Games as he bagged another gold in the men`s doubles along with Sanam Singh, besides the team bronze.
In fact, the Indian tennis players had a good outing at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, where besides bagging two golds, they added a silver in the mixed doubles (Sania Mirza and Vishnu Vardhan) and bronze in both the women`s singles (Sania) and men`s team event.
It was major improvement from the rather indifferent performance in the Commonwealth Games where they could managed only a gold, apart from a silver and a bronze.
Somdev again was star with the lone gold against his name after beating Greg Jones of Australia in men`s singles.
Sania had to be content with silver in women`s singles and a bronze -- partnering with Rushmi Chakravarthi – in women`s doubles.
It was nonetheless a turnaround of fortunes for the Hyderabadi, who had been battling poor form and a career-threatening wrist injury for better part of the year. The year, in fact, turned out to be special for the 24-year-old in more ways than one. The most prominent of these moments came in her personal life when she got married to Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik in April.
But ever the controversy`s favourite child, even tying the knot was not a smooth affair for the feisty star.
The build-up to one of the most high-profile cross-border weddings had all the makings of a Bollywood potboiler complete with an other woman which kept news channels busy with sordid details of her alleged first marriage with the cricketer.
Malik first denied it, then declared himself victim of a cyber fraud before finally divorcing the woman he allegedly married over phone to tie the knot with Sania.
After marriage, Sania took a break, recovered from the nagging wrist ailment and came back a fitter player.
Besides giving India four medals at the CWG and Asiad, she also bagged her first title in 17 months just before bidding goodbye to the year.
Currently ranked 141 in the world, Sania beat 80th ranked Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia in the final of the USD 75,000 13th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge in Dubai.
Somdev, on the other hand, has shown a lot of potential but he still has a long way to go in order to excel at the highest level. In 2010, although he managed to break into the Grand Slam main draws, he could hardly move beyond the first round.
After qualifying for the French Open, Somdev lost to Switzerland`s Marco Chiudinelli in the very first round. In the US Open, even though he got a direct entry into the main draw, he again failed to overcome the first round hurdle, losing to South Africa`s Kevin Anderson.
At Wimbledon, he failed to qualify for the singles main draw but competed in the doubles with former University of Virginia teammate Treat Huey, but yet again lost in the first round to the Indo-Pak pair of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi.
However, what Somdev could not achieve in Grand Slams, Bopanna could make up for it by pairing up with Qureshi. The Indo-Pak Express gave the two arch-rival nations a reason to come out and cheer for the same cause.
They reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon and the finals of the US Open.
After being overshadowed for a long time, the 30-year-old Bopanna came of age reaching a career-high ranking of 13 in the ATP doubles list.
Bopanna won his second ATP World Tour doubles title with Qureshi at Johannesburg in February. Besides, the pair won a couple of prestigious awards -- the 2010 `Grand Prix of Peace and Sports` and the `Peace and Sport Image of the Year` Award.
The year also featured some of the most thrilling Davis Cup matches played by India in as long as 89 years of the country taking part in the competition.
What was most heartening was the fact that Paes and Bhupathi`s efforts were well supported by the next-generation stars.
While Lee-Hesh played their part in keeping India`s hopes alive by winning their doubles ties, Somdev and Bopanna stamped their emergence as fine players, helping India consolidate its place in the Davis Cup history by registering a come-from-behind victory.
The 3-2 win over Brazil in the world group play-off in Chennai, after being 0-2 down on the opening day of the tournament, enabled India join the elite club of tennis-playing nations.
Amid these developments, one aspect of Indian tennis that remained constant was Paes` hunger for victory. Defying age, 37-year-old managed to win the French Open and US Open men`s doubles titles with Lukas Dlouhy and finished runner-up in the mixed doubles final of the US Open.
He began the year by winning the Australian Open mixed doubles title with Cara Black, which was their third consecutive Grand Slam final and the fourth overall.
He then snatched the Wimbledon mixed doubles title with the same partner to become India`s leading Grand Slam winner, going past Bhupathi`s record of 11 titles.
All in all, it was a year during which Indian tennis reached new heights.
It, however, was not as lucky for Yuki Bhambri, who had made people sit up and take notice of him in 2009. His only success came when he made it to the finals of the first Youth Olympics Games in Singapore before eventually settling for a silver medal.
As for the coming year, it looks brighter with Sania coming back to form and most significantly Paes and Bhupathi all set to pair up again at the Chennai Open, followed by the Australian Open.