Chennai: If the season gone by is any guide, then World No.8 and top seed Stanislas Wawrinka should rightfully begin as the odds-on favourite for the singles tennis title at the 2014 Aircel Chennai Open starting here Monday.
However, for the home crowd, the attention would be on the trio of Somdev Devvarman, a direct entry, and Wild Cards Yuki Bhambri and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan. It should be a cause for celebrations should any Indian even make it to the quarterfinals as all have tough draws.
The 28-year old Devvarman, ranked No.90 and a semi-finalist here in 2009, is slated to meet a qualifier in the first round, and a possible clash with Spaniard Marcel Granollers, World No.38, in the second.
Should the Indian Davis Cup star come through, then he is likely to go up against fourth seeded Frenchman Benoit Paire, World No.26.
Bhambri, the 21-year old from Delhi, goes up against Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta, a year older to the Indian, but among the most improved players on the ATP Tour.
As a qualifier, at Oeiras, Busta reached his first ATP World Tour semi-final, defeating Fabio Fognini in the quarterfinals before losing to Wawrinka in a three-set semis.
Nedunchezhiyan has an uphill task to get past 20-year old Czech Jiri Vesely, the youngest to break into top-100 in 2013. The six-foot, six-inch youngster is ranked 78 while the 25-year old Indian is at 312.
As for the 28-year old Wawrinka, possibly at the peak of his career, coming off a brilliant 2013 season, eventually qualifying for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals where he reached the semi-finals before losing to eventual winner Novak Djokovic.
Finishing the year with a 51-23 match record, Wawrinka starts a fresh season hoping to move up the rankings, something he believes is within his ability.
The absence of defending champion Janko Tipsarevic should further smoothen Wawrinka’s passage and also help make up for two disappointing forays here in 2012 and 2013 when he lost in the quarterfinals.
However, the Swiss ace should be wary of dangerous floaters in the draw, notably Aljaz Bedene from Slovenia who tripped Wawrinka in the quarterfinals here last year or Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, the eighth seed and finalist here in the previous edition.
If Wawrinka eventually wins the title, he will be the first top seed since Ivan Ljubicic in 2006 to do so.
The other top contender for the singles crown is World No.15 Mikhail Youzhny from Russia who is seeded second.
Youzhny won the title here in 2008, famously beating Rafael Nadal 6-0, 6-1, in the final. More significantly, he has enjoyed a fruitful 2013 when he won two titles to take his career tally to 10.
Among others entertaining realistic hopes of success is Italy’s Fabio Fognini, the current World No. 16.
He finished the past two seasons inside the Top 50 of the Emirates ATP Rankings and 2013 has been best Fognini`s best year thus far as he won 13 straight matches over three weeks and catapulted into the Top 20.
World No. 26 Paire, a semi-finalist here last year, will be another player to watch. He has again teamed up with Wawrinka in the doubles competition which the duo start as the defending champions.
The draw also includes some exciting talent such as Canada`s Vasek Pospisil (No.32), Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vesselin (52), Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (63) and China`s Yen-Hsun Lu (66).
In the doubles action, Rohan Bopanna and Aisam Qureshi, the top seeded Indo-Pakistan combination, have the ability to go all the way but first up for the duo is last year’s winners -- Wawrinka and Paire.
Placed in the bottom half and seeded second is Leander Paes, winner of six doubles titles here with different partners.
This time, the 40-year old Paes has paired up with Fognini and would be looking to bag his 54th doubles title.