No matter what happens in the men’s doubles final of the Chennai Open 2017 on Sunday, an Indian duo will be lifting the trophy. Rohan Bopanna and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, along with Purav Raja and Divij Sharan, created history by setting up the first all-Indian doubles final on the ATP tour.
The last time an Indian team won the title was back in 2011, when Leander Paes/Mahesh Bhupathi defeated Robin Haase/David Martin. Of the four finalists this year, 36-year-old Bopanna is the only one who has made the final before, way back in 2006 with Prakash Amritraj.
Eleven years ago, Bopanna ended up on the losing side but is confident he can turn that result around this time. He partnered with 28-year-old Nedunchezhiyan at the Chengdu Open last year, and made it to the quarter-finals. On Saturday, the pair beat fourth seeds Nicholas Monroe and Artem Sitak 7-6(3), 6-4 in a closely-fought semi-final.
“I think it’s really great to have an (all) Indian final in India, it can’t get better than that. It shows the hard work they have been putting, with Purav and Divij playing fantastic and with Jeevan having a great results last year. It’s not easy to play the Challengers and get the ranking up so they’ve been fighting week in, week out. It’s great that both the teams have made it to the final and hope it’s a great match,” Bopanna said in the post-match conference.
“I am very, very excited for the final. Rohan has given me a great opportunity here, teaming up with me and getting a direct entry into the main draw of an ATP 250 event – it was one of my goals. So I’m trying to make the most of that. It’s a win-win for India, no matter who picks up the trophy,” the left-handed Nedunchezhiyan said.
The unseeded pair of Sharan and Raja had booked their finals berth a day earlier on Friday, with a comprehensive 6-4, 6-2 win over second-seeded Argentines Guillermo Duran and Andres Molteni. Sharan and Raja have had great success throughout the week, especially with their high risk I-formation.
It will be their third ATP final together, having won titles in Bogota (2013) and Los Kabos (2016). On the Challenger tour, the pair won four titles together in 2016. Their consistent performances have seen them rise to 63 and 65 in the doubles rankings. This year, they aim to break into the top 30 and compete at the ATP level regularly.
“We have been improving match by match. This is a great start to 2017 and it will help our ranking immensely. We want to play bigger tournaments and we will be very happy if we achieve our target soon,” Sharan said after their semi-final.
Asked whether it would be difficult to play against their close friends in the final, Raja replied, “We just try and win each match. We don’t think too much about it. It’s great to play them (Bopanna and Nedunchezhiyan) in India. We were happy to get past Leander (in the first round) and now this is where we are.”
While Sharan and Raja have recorded straight sets victories in all rounds so far, Bopanna and Nedunchezhiyan were given quite a scare in their quarter-final. They saved three match points in the super tie-break against James Cerretani and Philipp Oswald to pull off a narrow a 6-2, 3-6, 12-10 win.
However, they had a much better showing in the last-four match. Local boy Nedunchezhiyan has been serving really well while Bopanna has been immense from the baseline, hitting backhand winners at will. Both the pairs are unseeded in this tournament and it promises to be an intriguing final.
Sharan, the left-hander in their pairing, operates from the baseline while Raja has great hands at the net. The duo has been working in sync throughout the week, with the 31-year-old Sharan serving really well and Raja finishing points off with his volleys.
Talking strategy, Bopanna asserted that they had a plan to counter Sharan/Raja’s tactics. “There is a lot of I-formation played on the tour and lots of teams execute it well. It’s not a new thing. We just have to believe in our game and not really worry about how the opposite team is playing. We have been playing great. If we stick to our strengths, we have a great chance,” he said.
Sharan and Raja have a slight advantage as they have been playing together for over a period of five years. They played with different partners for a while in the middle but have been largely a stable pairing since April 2016. They share a better understanding than Bopanna and Nedunchezhiyan, who are only playing their second tournament together.
Tennis fans are in for a treat on Sunday at the SDAT stadium and this all-Indian final will be a great way to end what has been a relatively tame tournament so far.
Updated Date: Jan 08, 2017 14:13 PM