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Aircel Chennai Open - Winner likely to come from the 'Big Four'

FEATURED COLUMNIST
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759   //    28 Dec 2012, 19:42 IST

Tomas Berdych

Chennai Open is the longest standing professional tennis tournament in the country. While other cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Hyderabad have held ATP and WTA events as well, none of those were able to sustain their presence on the international circuit. Next week will see the 16th edition of the tournament kick off at the SDAT Tennis Stadium with a total prize money of $450,000. And here is the preview of the 2013 Aircel Chennai Open.

While the event has thrown up surprise champions in the past, this year’s winner is likely to come from one of the ‘Big Four’ in the draw – world no. 6 Tomas Berdych, world no. 9 Janko Tipsarevic, world no. 15 Marin Cilic and world no. 17 Stanislas Wawrinka.

With defending champion Milos Roanic choosing to play the Australian warm-up events this year, the top dog status will go to world no. 6 Tomas Berdych. The Czech native has been one of the most consistent players on the ATP circuit outside the real Big Four (Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal) in recent years and is coming off a pretty good season in 2012. Berdych has made the top 10 his home ever since he first made his debut there in July 2010. And while the Czech is known for his booming serve and big ground strokes, he is susceptible of failing to deliver in pressure situations. Berdych went 61-23 for the year that included 2 title wins. And while he suffered a mid-season slump during which he suffered shock first round exits at Wimbledon and the Olympics on his favoured grass surface, Berdych rebounded strongly towards the end of the season – reaching the semi finals at the US Open and the Shanghai Masters and winning in Stockholm. Berdych has played in Chennai once before, in 2011 when he reached the semi finals and will be hoping to go further this time.

Janko Tipsarevic

Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic will be seeded no. 2 in the draw. The Serb has gone through a transformation in the last few years. There’s no denying that the Serb has some of the best ground strokes in the game, but his head was often in the wrong place. Known for his interest in philosophical reading, Tipsarevic’s belief and confidence has skyrocketed since being part of the Serbian Davis Cup team and watching countryman and good friend Novak Djokovic become the world champion. The bespectacled Serb finished 2012 with a 57-28 record that included 2 titles and 2 other finals. Tipsarevic has been coming to Chennai regularly over the past few years and his results have kept improving – reaching the quarters in 2008, the semis in 2010 and 2011 and the finals in 2012.

Croatian Marin Cilic will be seeded no. 3 in the 32-player draw. In 2010, Cilic reached the top 10 of the world rankings as a 22-year old and many predicted a Grand Slam title in his future. While the expectations may have tempered since, the potential is still there for all to see. Cilic clearly likes playing in Chennai. Having come here for the first time in 2007 to play the qualifying draw, Cilic went on to reach the semis in 2008 and won here in 2009 and 2010. But the last two years, Chennai has not been a happy hunting ground for him. A first round loss in 2011 and skipping the event in 2012 means that the 24-year old Croatian has a lot to make up for. While he missed the early part of 2012 due to injuries, Cilic ended the season with a 39-19 record that included a quarter-final appearance at the US Open and 2 ATP titles.

Stanislas Wawrinka

If Stanislas Wawrinka played tennis in a different generation, he would have been a far more successful and popular player, especially in his native Switzerland. But it’s hard to steal the headlines when your countryman is a certain Mr. Federer. Still, Wawrinka has not done too shabbily for himself. The Swiss player, seeded 4th this year, has been starting his season in Chennai every year since 2008. He reached the finals here in 2010 and went one better in 2011. But the Swiss is coming off an average 2012 season in which he compiled only a 35-20 record and failed to reach the championship round in any event. Wawrinka’s backhand is one of the best shots in the business and the Swiss will be hoping the crowd support helps him recapture his title-winning form.

Other players to watch out for in the draw include Benoit Piare, a talented Frenchman who plays to thrill fans rather than for always winning matches, Ukraine’s Sergei Stakhovsky, a former top-40 player who is known for his strong opinions regarding the way the ATP tour is run and his anti-WTA stance, and big hitting Dutchman Robina Hasse.

Somdev Devvarman

Indian interest in the singles will be focused on Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri, both wild card entrants into the main draw. Devvarman, a former finalist here, has slipped to the 600s in the rankings after undergoing shoulder surgery in January and missing the first six months of the year. Still short of match practice, it’s unlikely that Somdev will go too far in the draw but with an easy draw, Somdev could win a round or two, which will do his confidence and his ranking a world of good.

Meanwhile, expectations from Bhambri will be high after the 20-year old has come off best season of his career to date. Bhambri won a Challenger title in 2012 and broke into the top 200 of the world rankings for the first time. With plenty of home support, Bhambri could do some damage in the draw and set himself up well for 2013, where he should aim to break into the worlds top 100.

All in all, it’s going to be an exciting week of tennis ahead for tennis fans in India. The action kicks off this weekend with the qualifying draw, which should see plenty of Indian names, while the main draw kicks off on Monday 31st December.

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FEATURED COLUMNIST
A banker and tennis fanatic based in Mumbai who lives by the motto Game, Set, Match, Life!! All views expressed here are completely personal!!
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