Agnieszka Radwanska and Jerzy Janowicz beat Heather Watson and Andy Murray in straight sets in a Hopman Cup mixed doubles rubber as Poland won their Group B tie against Great Britain 2-1 on Wednesday.
This week the ATP tennis tour bandwagon roles into one of its most distinctive locations: India. The Chennai Open is part of the ATP World Tour 250 Series and while countries such as the USA, United Kingdom and France host several competitions at all levels throughout the year, India has the privilege of hosting just one ATP event.
THE STORY SO FAR
Tennis has been popular in India since around the 1880s when the British Army brought the game to the subcontinent.
Regular tournaments such as the Punjab Lawn Tennis Championship in Lahore (now Pakistan) and the Bengal Lawn Tennis Championship in what is now Kolkata quickly became highlights on the Indian sporting calendar and enjoyed large attendances.
Tennis provided sports fans with an alternative to cricket – as a more fast-paced game, many found it more spectator-friendly.
India’s blossoming domestic game led to improved performances on the international stage and in 1921 the nation competed in its first Davis Cup.
Indian tennis teams have never won the sport’s most prestigious international tournament but have finished as runners-up three times (1966, 1974 and 1987), which is a testament to how well regarded India have been in tennis.
In 1974 it was even suggested that India’s time had come to win but the final against South Africa was scrapped after India refused to participate due to the South African government's apartheid policies.
Most notably in doubles tennis, India has produced a number of superb players who have won the sport’s most prestigious tournaments.
The names Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi are legendary in doubles tennis as two of its finest ever exports.
Paes and Bhupathi won three Grand Slam titles and finished runners-up at two others. This in itself is an impressive statistic but, playing alongside other partners in the mixed and the men’s competitions, the pair amassed a staggering 23 grand slam titles between them, claiming runners-up spots in a further 23 tournaments.
These statistics are remarkable for a number of reasons. Not only does it reflect the pair’s longevity in a physically-taxing sport, but they have also proven that Indian tennis players can compete at the highest level and earn a good living from the sport.
THE HERE AND NOW
Sport as a whole in India is experiencing a boom with leading businesses lending their wealth to establish professional leagues in cricket, football and tennis.
These leagues are established with three principles in mind. Firstly, they provide great entertainment for the Indian people with some of the world’s top foreign talent playing to sold-out stadiums.
Secondly, they allow locally-based players of the franchises to play alongside this imported talent and improve their own skill-levels.
Lastly, these tournaments spare no expense with their pomp and ceremony, which helps capture the imagination and attention of India’s youth, demonstrating to them that professional sport can lead to a rewarding career.
Last year was significant for the development of Indian tennis when two of these professional leagues were established in the country.
Using a similar model to cricket’s highly successful Indian Premier League (IPL), the Champions Tennis League (CTL) and the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) were created by two former Indian tennis legends in Vijay Amritraj (the brother of current Davis Cup captain Anand Amritraj) and Bhupathi respectively.
The CTL was played across six Indian cities and holding true to the three core principals, each team had a local player plus three former tennis legends such as Juan Carlos Ferrero, Pat Cash and Venus Williams.
The core infrastructure of Bhupathi’s IPTL was the same but it included an international element with teams coming from Dubai, Manila, New Dehli and Singapore.
This tournament attracted even more impressive funding and consequently current stars such as Andy Murray, Maria Sharapova and Novak Djokovic – to name just a few – were picked to play.
“The leagues are fantastic,” said India No. 1 player Somdev Devvarman, who played in the inaugural CTL and is a wild-card entry into this year’s Chennai Open. “They create a buzz that’s been missing for a while in Indian tennis. The leagues have the unique ability to capture the attention of youngsters and motivate them to pick up a racket.”
Tennis enjoys a considerable following in India today but the country has failed to build upon past success and develop the game further, particularly in singles tennis.
One reason for India’s lack of success at the top level could be due to the emergence of a sport like football and its Indian Super League, which has taken the country by storm. This increased popularity means that, along with field hockey, tennis competes directly with more sports to attract the key grass roots demographic it requires to produce more top-level players.
Devvaraman feels that the leagues help to breakdown the stereotype in India that tennis is just for kids who live in big urban cities.
“The biggest tennis stars from India all come from cities like Chennai and that needs to change,” he said. “The Chennai Open is a magnificent tournament and I used to watch it 19 years ago as a boy but the leagues help to bring tennis to new markets in India and capture the attention of the whole country.”
Paes and Bhupathi are now in their forties and are at the end of their illustrious careers.
While Indian tennis goes through a rebuilding phase players, the hopes of a nation lie with Sania Mirza and Devvaraman to deliver in the biggest tournaments. At 28, Mirza is a three-time Grand Slam champion in mixed doubles while Devvaraman is a Commonwealth and Asian Games gold medalist.
Of India’s new batch of players coming though the names to watch out for are former Boys Australian Open singles champion Yuki Bhambri, and Sanam Singh.
Both are new to the senior circuit and the support of veteran players like Amritraj and Bhupathi will be key in their development as professionals.
With initiatives such as the CLT and the IPTL attracting the youth of the nation to tennis, it will surely only be a matter of time until we see a top-10 ranked Indian tennis player.
Rafael Nadal’s ability to make a quick recovery from multiple ailments was thrown into doubt last night as he lost 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 to Michael Berrer at the Qatar Open.
This first-round match was Nadal’s first of the 2015 ATP World Tour and he appeared to have had insufficient time to recover from an appendectomy, and far too little match practice over the last two months.
Nevertheless, it was a humiliating outcome for one of the most successful players of all time, who won the first set at a canter, and then found himself quite unable to play anywhere near the standard he would have hoped for.
Berrer is a 34-year-old qualifier ranked outside the top 100 who is playing the last season of his career.
Nadal has also been suffering from back and wrist injuries, which reduced his service speed greatly.
Berrer had only taken four games in four sets off Nadal in their previous two meetings, but recognised his career’s greatest opportunity and in patches responded by raising his standards to new heights.
“It’s one of the matches which will stay in my memory for ever, but let’s be honest it was the first match for Rafa after injury,” he said.
“What I’ve learned from my studies for my sports psychology masters degree is to avoid thinking about these things,” he added when asked about dealing with the pressure of closing out a career-best win against a legend.
“In the first set, it felt like the other matches against him. Then it became easy to attack because it was the only chance I had.
“It’s also my last season and I had nothing to lose, and I’m enjoying it here – so why not?”
Berrer had plenty of time to think about answering that question, for he broke early in the final set and led 3-1, sometimes finding angles which perhaps only a fellow lefty could manage against Nadal.
The French Open champion almost broke back immediately, but a Hawkeye decision showed his ground stroke to have landed a millimetre beyond the baseline, and his only real chance after that came in the final game.
That saw Berrer slip to 15-40, only to produce two good first serves, and then go break back point down by delivering a double fault, before attacking the net on each of the last three points and finding Nadal unable to come up with any of those rasping passing shots for which he has become so renowned. It cost Nadal the title and cast doubts over his ability to make any sort of challenge for the Australian Open.
Earlier Novak Djokovic, who succeeded Nadal as world No1 in June, made a satisfactory start with a 6-1, 6-4 win over his Serbian compatriot Dusan Lajovic.
“I didn’t know during the last couple of days whether I would be able to play,” Djokovic said, referring to the fever he has had.
“So in the circumstances it was a very good start.”
Ito moves into second round of Chennai Open
Japan’s No2 Tatsuma Ito moved into the second round of the ATP Chennai Open with a straight-sets win over Indian wildcard Ramkumar Ramanathan.
The 87th-ranked Ito, playing for the first time in the southern Indian city, won 6-3, 6-3.
“It is good to start the year with a win, but I must play a consistent game to go forward,” said Ito, who next plays fifth seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain. Garcia- Lopez overcame the loss in the tiebreaker of the first set to edge past qualifier Evgeny Donskoy of Russia 6-7 (3/7), 6-2, 6-3 in two hours.
Ruthless Sharapova eases past Shvedova
Top seed Maria Sharapova began her 2015 campaign in ruthless fashion as she brushed aside Yaroslava Shvedova 6-0, 6-1 in the second round of the Brisbane International.
Sharapova raced through the first set in just 23 minutes. Shvedova offered more resistance in the second but was no match for the world No2.
“It certainly felt good to start (well) after not playing a match for a couple of months,” Sharapova said. “Despite all the training, it’s such a different feeling to go out on the court and play in an actual match atmosphere.”
Kvitova proves too strong for Jovanovski
Czech world No4 Petra Kvitova thrashed Serbia’s Bojana Jovanovski 6-1, 6-2 in the second round of the Shenzhen Open yesterday.
The 24-year-old double Wimbledon winner broke Jovanovski twice in the first set. The Serbian, ranked 56, offered a little more resistance in the second set, earning three break points. But she failed to take any of them and Kvitova wrapped up the match.
Meanwhile, Zheng Saisai took nearly two hours to beat Slovenia’s Polona Hercog 6-3, 2-6, 6-2.