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Exclusive Interview with Somdev Devvarman in the run up to the Chennai Open

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somdev_devvarman1Somdev Kishore Devvarman, India's leading singles tennis player, will kick off the new season at the Chennai Open 2012 starting 2nd January. India's highest ranked singles player has had a very impressive 2011 as reflected in the steady climb in his ATP ranking. Somdev broke into the top 100 again in February this year and reached a career best ranking of 62 in July before finishing the year at the rank of 84. His notable performances in 2011 include reaching the finals of the South African Tennis Open 2011, the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open (ATP Masters 1000 event) and the quarterfinals at the Atlanta Tennis Championships. Somdev proved his mettle by defeating quite a few top ranked players this year including World no.9 Janko Tipsarevic, Marcos Baghdatis, Xavier Malisse, Milos Raonic, and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez among others.

In 2010, the India No.1 won the Gold medal in the men's singles event of the CommonWealth Games in New Delhi and the Men's singles and doubles Gold medal at the 2010 Asian Games at Guangzhou, China. Recognizing his contribution to the Indian Tennis, the Government of India in 2011 awarded him the prestigious Arjuna Award.

We catch up with Somdev ahead of the Chennai Open to speak about his preparation and aspirations for the new season in 2012. Somdev spent the formative days of his tennis career here in Chennai and has had a very impressive run in 2009 when he entered the tournament has a wild card and ended up finishing runner-up to Marin Cilic, defeating Carlos Moya and Ivo Karlovic en route to the final.

Somdev, it's your fourth appearance at the Chennai Open and with the crowd behind you, there are bound to be huge expectations. How do you handle the pressure of playing in front of the home crowd?

It's not easy. You want to play well, the crowd wants you to do well. It's a charged up atmosphere. So there is a lot of pressure. You just have to try and not let it get to you. That's easier said than done though.

You have played a lot in Chennai in your early years and you certainly have the home advantage. You have had a very impressive run in 2009 as a wild card entrant here.  What are your aspirations from the tournament this time around?

Well I certainly hope to do well and go one better than 2009!

What does breaking into the top 100 mean to you and what targets have you set for yourself in 2012?

Breaking into the top-100 was a mini-goal and I'm glad I've got there. Now the aim is to keep going higher. I don't want to put any pressure on myself by setting a specific goal for 2012…but breaking into the top-50 would be nice.

In 2011, you have been a little unlucky meeting the top players in the early rounds - Tommy Robredo in the Australian Open, Rodger Federer in the Dubai Championships.  Nonetheless, a very impressive year. What are your key learnings from the season?

That consistency is key. When you meet top ranked players, which you often do in tour events, they can easily expose your weaknesses. You have to stay on top of your game at all times.

How special was receiving the Arjuna Award?

It was a real honour to get the Arjuna Award. While playing, however, I don't really think of these awards and they're not the driving force. I just want to win...and somehow more so when I'm playing for the country. Though it is nice to be recognized for your achievements.

Do you think India now has infrastructure – both in the form of professionally managed sports companies and sponsors - to provide a good platform for aspiring tennis professionals in the country?

The infrastructure and facilities have come a long way…but I think there is still a lot of room for improvement.

Somdev will join the likes of ATP Tour's hottest rising star Milos Raonic, world no.9 Janko Tipsarevic, defending champion Stanislas Wawrinka, among others at the Chennai Open in just about a fortnight. We'll have more interviews with these leading stars in the run up to the event, up next...Stan 'the Man'.

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