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Somdev, Sania and Yuki make 2009 memorable for India

Last updated on: December 26, 2009 11:24 IST

Ecstasy and exultation for Indian tennis in 2009



Somdev Devvarman was the main protagonist in a stunning tale of success as Indian tennis savoured some great and rare moments in 2009, a year that promised to change the face of the game in the country.

From the junior stage to the highest level of the game, India had its moments of ecstasy and exultation as as Somdev, Sania Mirza, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and teenager Yuki Bhambri all contributed to the success story.

Somdev gave India a new identity on the Tour by excelling in singles, while old warhorses Paes and Bhupathi proved they are still a force to reckon with in doubles by winning three more Grand Slams.

Sania Mirza continued adding firsts to her name as she became India's first female tennis player to win a Grand Slam title when she triumphed at the Australian Open along with compatriot Bhupathi in the mixed doubles event in January.

From a junior Grand Slam title to a berth in the Davis Cup World Group, achievements were recorded throughout the year, bringing a lot of relief for the game in India.

Image: Sania Mirza, Yuki Bhambri and Somdev Devvarman
Photographs: Reuters

The new poster boy of the Indian tennis

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And it all started with the sensational arrival of Somdev on the big stage in the first month of the year, when the US Collegiate champion created ripples by reaching the final of the Chennai Open, India's only ATP event.

When he mowed down the bigwigs like former world number one Carlos Moya and world number 25 Ivo Karlovic, it became crystal clear that the winds of change had started blowing in the Indian tennis.

He jumped to world number 126 in ATP ranking from 204 and with him Indian tennis also took a giant leap forward.

Somdev did not win any title but his fearless game, sheer professionalism and audacity won him many an admirer and made him the new poster boy of the Indian tennis.

Suddenly in a week's gap, from a mere participant he was seen as a contender on the Tour though a prolonged lull followed after his stellar Chennai Open show.

Everytime he stepped on the court people expected him to win but the Assamese took his own time to grow and adjust to the challenges of the extremely difficult Tour.

More than anything, Somdev had belief that he belonged to the league of big boys and just substantiated it when he avenged his Chennai Open final defeat against Marin Cilic by beating the Croat at Legg Mason Tennis Classic.

He had to wait till the last Major of the year to make his debut at a Grand Slam and his entry into the singles main draw of the US Open ended India's seven-year long wait to see a player competing at that stage.

Finally, India's challenge in men's tennis was not confined to just doubles competition.

Image: Somdev Devvarman

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Sania's success came in patches

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Sania followed up her maiden Slam win by reaching the final of Pattaya City event the next month but struggled the remainder of the year to repeat that.

She has never been consistent despite having enormous talent and 2009 was no different as again her success came in patches.

Surprisingly, she chose to play on the ITF Challenger circuit and also landed one title from two finals. She won the Lexington event in July and ended runner-up at Vancouver next month.

Her most memorable win came against Shahar Peer of Israel and World number 12 Marion Bartoli in the Osaka event but since the French player had retired it took away sheen from the win.

At the Grand Slam stage, Sania again came a cropper, not moving beyond the second round in any Major.

Image: Sania Mirza

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Bhambri: Future star in the making

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If Somdev was making waves on the ATP circuit, Yuki Bhambri was also busy writing his own success story.

The Delhi teen began with a bang by capturing the junior Australian Open title, becoming only the fourth Indian to capture a junior singles Grand Slam title.

He also became the first Indian singles winner of the junior Australian Open at the young age of 16.

After tasting success at the junior circuit Yuki decided to take plunge into the senior circuit and what followed was a remarkable and smooth transition.

His frail frame belied the sheer grit with which he plays his game, packed with intelligence and a huge range of strokes.

In a seven-month period -- from April to October -- the tall Delhi player won five ITF Futures title, becoming the youngest Indian player to win a Futures title, a clear indication that a future star is in the making.

Yuki then made a dream Davis Cup debut when he defeated Izak van der Merwe in India's impressive 4-1 win over host South Africa.

With this win, India entered the World Group after 11 years and credit goes to both Somdev and Rohan Bopanna for playing excellent tennis. Significantly India won this tie without winning a doubles rubber.

The tie will be remembered for Somdev's heart-stopping marathon win against Rik de Voest in the first reverse singles in which he erased a two-set deficit to clinch the tie.

Image: Yuki Bhambri

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Paes, Bhupathi swell Grand Slam tallies

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Paes and Bhupathi continued to swell their Grand Slam tally. Paes won two titles -- French Open and US Open -- along with Lukas Dlouhy to take his tally to 10.

Bhupathi won his seventh mixed doubles Slam title at Australian Open to take his overall tally to 11 and also ended runners-up along with Mark Knowles in the men's doubles events of the Australian Open and US Open, where he lost to old pal and partner Paes and Dlouhy.

Harsh Mankad and Bopanna won three men's doubles title each on the ATP circuit and Poojashree Venkatesh did well on the women ITF circuit by winning four Futures titles out of five finals.

Her success reflected in her ranking as well as the Karnataka player is now placed at 330 after starting the year at 943.

Image: Leander Paes with partner Lukas Dlouhy (left); Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza

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