India look to Devvarman with hope

MUMBAI Thu Jan 15, 2009 8:40am IST

Somdev Devvarman of India returns a shot to Marin Cilic of Croatia during the finals of the Chennai Open ATP tennis tournament in this January 11, 2009 file photo. A positive attitude, strong legs and practice sessions with Andy Roddick have turned Devvarman into the new hope of Indian tennis. REUTERS/Babu/Files

Somdev Devvarman of India returns a shot to Marin Cilic of Croatia during the finals of the Chennai Open ATP tennis tournament in this January 11, 2009 file photo. A positive attitude, strong legs and practice sessions with Andy Roddick have turned Devvarman into the new hope of Indian tennis.

Credit: Reuters/Babu/Files

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MUMBAI (Reuters) - A positive attitude, strong legs and practice sessions with Andy Roddick have turned Somdev Devvarman into the new hope of Indian tennis.

Devvarman jumped 48 places up the world rankings this week after reaching his first ATP Tour final in Chennai.

"Somdev's biggest strengths are his legs and his head," said twice Wimbledon quarter-finalist Vijay Amritraj as he commentated on the tournament. "It's a good sign."

Devvarman, who turned professional last year and is India's highest-ranked player, told reporters during the event that his recent improvement was due to a three-week practice session with American former world number one Roddick in December.

His coach says his biggest asset is his attitude.

"He may lose matches but never, ever have I seen him giving up," Jacek Wolicki told reporters last week.

ROBUST DISPLAY

The 23-year-old Devvarman, who is based in the United States, rose to 154 in the world after beating former world number one Carlos Moya and world number 25 Ivo Karlovic on his way to his first ATP final.

Wildcard Devvarman produced a robust display against Croatian Marin Cilic, ranked 27th last week, before being beaten 6-4 7-6 in the final.

"This is what we've been looking for so many years now... This boy is a real find for us," doubles specialist Mahesh Bhupathi told the Times of India newspaper.

Bhupathi was one half of the "Indian Express" doubles team with Leander Paes which rose to number one in the world in 1999.

Atlanta Olympics bronze medallist Paes remains the last Indian to have won an ATP singles title, in Newport in 1998, the year he reached his career-best singles ranking of 73 and the last year that India played in the Davis Cup World Group.

SURFACE CHOICE

Devvarman's recent success has given India hope of rediscovering success in the Davis Cup.

"Yes, Somdev is our number one singles player and we'll definitely keep his interests in mind when we choose the surface for our home Davis Cup ties," said Bhupathi.

Somdev made his Davis Cup debut last year but lost all three of his matches. India are competing in the Asia/Oceania Zone Group 1 this year after losing to Romania in the World Group play-offs in 2008.

Devvarman, twice U.S. collegiate champion after taking up a tennis scholarship at the University of Virginia, is playing in the Australian Open qualifiers this week and won his first match against Prakash Amritraj, the second-highest ranked Indian at 209.

Devvarman, born in Assam before his family moved to Chennai, will carry the hopes of a nation if he gets into next week's main draw.

"We were looking for a star and there he is," former India Davis Cup player and coach Akhtar Ali told Indian media.

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