Lacked consistency in serve, didn't execute 1-2 strategy: Raja
By Amanpreet Singh
Pune, Jan 3 (PTI) Purav Raja won't read much into the defeat in the first match of the season but admitted they faltered in executing the '1-2' strategy, resulting in his ouster from the Tata Open Maharashtra along with Leander Paes.
Raja was also candid in saying that he lacked consistency in his service on big points on Tuesday but was quick to point out that it was not one of his worst serving days.
He also felt that Jeevan Neduncheziyan raised his game in the match and it did make a difference to the outcome.
The 32-year-old Raja could not hold his serve even once in the match which they lost 3-6 2-6 to Rohan Bopanna and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan in just 57 minutes.
"It has to be '1-2' play in doubles. It was working on Leander's serve and on my serve we were going into 1-2-3-4 and losing the point. Normally, we win those points but credit to them. The key is to get 1-2 work. It has been solid in last few weeks. Taking a five-week break, you start one step back and it cost us the points," Raja told PTI in a free-wheeling chat.
"It's first match of the year, so I won't analyse much. Going into '1-2' play, we can maximize those '1-2' play like it was on his serve and sharpen our returns. We are so sharp generally, but were faltering yesterday," Raja said.
Explaining the '1-2' strategy, Raja said:"We play a lot of 'I' formation. So I serve on a particular spot for Leander to take the next ball. The serve has to be good enough and the next ball has to be put away. Yesterday it was going in open court and we were missing the volley."
Further quizzed on yesterday's defeat, Raja said Bopanna and Jeevan executed their plans better than them.
"I would say what we did good was negated by them by doing their things better. The major (reason for defeat) was executing my serve. Yesterday was not one of my best serving days but also not the worst.
"So it came down how it would have gone if we had held the serve at 3-4 down and held the serve at 3-3 when we broke back," he added.
"My returns and volleys are always going to be dangerous. The serve is to set up the point and put the ball away, I felt I was doing that well on Leander's serve. If we put pressure on them, then we can create magic. Our strength is from the net, and we did not execute that as well as we could have."
Bopanna and Jeevan reckoned that the speed of the ball from Raja and Paes was not great so handling the returns became easy for them.
However, Raja does not perceive it as a big factor, when asked if that's the case.
"I have got a powerful serve in general. The speed really comes in from Leander's serve and it was not a factor yesterday, because he was holding his serve. It came down to my serve. It's dangerous but it also means sometimes it may not go in. If I am giving them second serve, it's slow, if I am giving them first serve, they hit the return out."
"The key was hitting those big serve consistently on the big points. So did I do that? Probably, not enough. Did I execute the rough game and were they worried about us, yes for sure. They knew what we can produce is different to what did produce."
Raja had an extremely successful partnership with left- handed Divij Sharan, winning numerous titles on the Challenger circuit and on the ATP Tour as well.
Asked to explain how different it is to play with the Paes and Sharan, the Mumbai man said having a left-hander as a partner has its own advantages but he could not have missed playing with legendary Paes.
"Divij has particular angles when he serves and with Leander the ball is mostly straight, so I have to cover my middle (on net) much more (with Paes).
"It's tough to create angles on Leander's serve. So I have to judge the angle and move accordingly. That's the difference I had to adjust to. Even on returns, Leander's returns are blocked and Divij's were hard-hit. Change of pace is so much, he can lob one, do something else on other."
So was is not a better option to stick to Sharan?
"I have played 18 months with Divij and 8 weeks with Leander. It's too early to judge. We have still made 500-600 points. I won't say who is better, I would say they put me in different positions.
"(Playing alongside Leander) is too good an opportunity to be missed, you are learning from someone who has been there all his life."
Raja also suggested that ATP must use the same balls in tournaments leading up to Grand Slams, which are going to be used at Majors.
"We are not playing Australian Open balls at high altitude (venue). These are Yonex balls, only used in India and maybe in Japan. But Australian Open balls should be used in tournaments leading up to it. We practice all season with Wilson balls," he said.
"The ball reacts differently, these are lighter through the air. Brisbane (one iof the three season-openers) they are using Wilson, so it's should be level-playing field. It may cause injury, though the weight may be just 1mg difference. It can impact the shoulder," he signed off