Indian Tennis

In Divij Sharan and Purav Raja, India could have (finally) found another talented men’s doubles pair

The duo might have lost in the Chennai Open final, but their performance across the week was a career-defining turning point.

The recently concluded Chennai Open had a lot of revelations for the Indian tennis spectrum, especially on the doubles front with the first-of-its-kind all-Indian doubles final contested on Sunday.

Rohan Bopanna and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan notched the win to end their short-term partnership on a high note. For the finalists, the long-standing duo of Divij Sharan and Purav Raja, it was however a timely opportunity to come out of the fringes of the Indian tennis realm from where they had been – rather inadvertently – cast aside. In that, though not unprecedented in the ATP Tour, their Chennai Open success was nonetheless a pivot as it helped an entire nation get better acquainted with the pair, who had had long been shrouded by more prominent names and faces.

Making a case for themselves

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In the course of the lengthy 2016 ATP season, Sharan and Raja went on to establish themselves as one of the dominant teams in the ATP Challenger circuit, with five titles, the rung right below the ATP Tour in the sport’s organisational hierarchy. Starting the new season, it did not take long for them to carry forward this confidence in its first ATP event, right at home. Thus, while the unseeded pair had an unlikely road into the finals, at no point did they seem like they did not belong there. They began their tournament with an upset – over the third seeded team of Andre Sa and Leander Paes – and followed it up right till the end, with another upset win over the Argentinian second seeds of Andres Molteni and Guillermo Duran in the semi-finals.

Moreover, their finishing as the runner-ups not only had them accumulating 150 ranking points, but it also accounted for each attaining a career high in the ATP rankings – 55th for Sharan and 61st for Raja – and an entry into the main draw of the Australian Open.

In Scroll.in’s brief chat with Sharan, following the Chennai Open, the 30-year-old pointedly noted the latter two facets were a significant boost for their career here on. “It was obviously a very productive week and it was a great start for the year,” he opened up, before continuing, “We will be going for the Australian Open next and this finals will definitely keep us motivated. We have had some good results in all the tournaments and yes the rankings have improved after last week so that should help us getting into more (ATP) 250 events now onwards and be sure of making the Slams. Our rankings are better now and we shouldn’t be worrying about Grand Slam cuts. A few more good wins and a few more good results will also give us a chance at the ATP 500s.”

Understanding in their partnership

Cyclically, playing a greater proportion of tournaments in the ATP Tour would add to Sharan and Raja’s visibility as a team even as it would help them maintain – from the Indian tennis perspective – a presence as a bankable pair in the bigger events of the Tour. As it stands, while both Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna, the country’s leading names in the international doubles circuit, will be teaming up with new partners; Paes with Andre Sa and Bopanna with Pablo Cuevas, with both teams needing some adjustment period to get to know each other well, which would then reflect in their results, Sharan and Raja’s familiarity with each other makes them quite a well-settled pair in the midst of the motley mix of doubles pairings.

“We have our strengths and we kind of use them well together,” described Sharan, speaking about the ease that they brought on to the court. “Both of us being from India, we are good friends. We have a similar understanding of doubles so that helps us. So, it’s a mix of all these things and the understanding we have. There are days, when you may not play your best but because we have that kind of understanding and trust, we find that support in each other (to think) that there is a chance we might get back into the match where we have not played so well. Or, if we have had a bad day (and to know) that’s fine and it’s part and parcel of the game. (To understand) it’s normal and we are ready for the next match.”

The Indian Davis Cup factor

Such assuredness, while needed in the competitive thrust of the ATP world, would not also go amiss in the Indian Davis Cup scenario that’s has seen a huge upheaval in the last couple of weeks, regarding the team composition.

Alongside the limited prospects available to choose and pick from for the singles line-up, the Indian Davis Cup has also fallen behind in its doubles game too. And, far from being the favourites – and having a steady doubles team – during the time Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi worked in tandem, the doubles team selection has also started to differ, hinging upon each tie.

Until now, while their rankings made it harder for them to get into the Indian Davis Cup team, the upward movement of the same could see Sharan and Raja get a chance to play in the Davis Cup thereby giving the Indian doubles structure in the team-based format a renewed sense of purpose and credibility. It would also be an apt summarisation of the lengthy road their career took, before potentially poising them as the face of Indian tennis, not only for the immediate future, but also for several years ahead.

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