Chennai Open: 4 ways to remember the tournament


There was a familiar feeling about the closing scenes at the Chennai Open tonight.

Tennis balls being struck high into the night sky with cricket bats, the dispersing crowd scrambling in their efforts to gain a tournament souvenir for themselves, tennis players draped awkwardly in elaborate Indian shawls, media photographers clustered and clicking away at the centre of the court, Charu Sharma’s baritone voice droning on in the background.

The feeling was one of satisfaction at the end of a good show, of contentment at the completion of an annual ritual, of nostalgia at a host of collective memories already assailing the senses. The closing chapter at every edition of the Chennai Open always evokes the same emotions. The activities in the centre remain the same, only the main characters differ every time. Over the many years in Chennai, Carlos Moya, Marin Cilic, Milos Raonic, Janko Tipsarevic, have all occupied centre stage on the first Sunday evening of the tennis season. This time around, it was Stanislas Wawrinka and Edouard Roger-Vasselin who did the honours.

As the last tennis ball is struck on the courts, and the final cheer from the crowd dies down, here are four ways in which we might remember the 2014 edition of the Aircel Chennai Open.

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Stanislas Wawrinka

As a perfect beginning for Stanislas Wawrinka in a potentially career-defining year

Stanislas Wawrinka is a Chennai Open regular, this being his sixth straight appearance at the tournament. He won the event once before in 2011, and has always been one of the stars to look out for in Chennai.

But this year, things were slightly different. For the first time, Wawrinka was the top seed and clear favourite to win the tournament. This was on the back of a stellar 2013 season that the Swiss had had, a year in which he leapfrogged into the Top 10 of the world and became a genuine big-stage player. Entering the new season in red hot form, all eyes were trained on Wawrinka to see how far he could push himself up the tennis hierarchy. This season could quite decide the top level at which he would end up in his career. His performance at a season beginning 250-event like the Chennai Open, where he was expected to win, would therefore be crucial in setting the tone for the year ahead.

In that context, Wawrinka came through with flying colours. He bore the mantle of tournament favourite with ease, as he proceeded to win his four matches this week without dropping a single set. The only slight stutter came in the semi-final, when Vasek Pospisil began to offset his rhythm and push him into a corner, before a bad back put paid to the Canadian’s chances. In the finals today against Roger-Vasselin, Wawrinka showed his class as he sped away with the second set and the match, after having endured a tight first set.

The Swiss world number 8 did what was expected of him this week with aplomb. It remains to be seen how he pushes on from here on the more difficult challenges that lie ahead. If he does manage to maintain a winning streak, this Chennai Open might effectively be remembered as Wawrinka’s springboard to greatness.

As a strong display of young Indian talent

Ramkumar Ramanathan and Yuki Bhambri, 19 and 21 years of age respectively, ensured that the Indian flag flew high at the Chennai Open this week. Although Bhambri went one round higher by making it to the quarterfinals stage for the first time in his ATP career, it was Ramanathan who stole the scene in the first half of the tournament.

The local Chennai lad first made it through three rounds of qualifying to enter the main draw. This was seen as a commendable achievement in itself for someone so inexperienced and raw. But the surprise did not stop there, as Ramanathan proceeded to beat Somdev Devvarman, ranked more than 400 places above him, in the first round of the main draw. He was swiftly brought down to earth in the next round by Marcel Granollers, but the buzz had been created by then. The magic of his memorable run will continue to linger for quite some time.

Bhambri’s own run to the quarterfinals was not equally exalted, partly due to his greater recognition on the professional circuit, and also the retirement of his opponent Fabio Fognini in the middle of their second round match. Nevertheless, Bhambri came up with a solid performance to beat the ATP’s Most Improved Player of 2013, Pable Carreno Busta, in the first round, and held his own without being intimidated by Fognini in the next round, before being defeated by Vasek Pospisil.

On the other hand, India’s biggest pre-tournament hope, Somdev Devvarman, disappointed this time, as he lost in the first round. But his loss did end up contributing to the fairy-tale run of his fellow countryman, Ramanathan, in the tournament.

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Mikhail Youzhny

As a week of player retirements

It all began with the defending champion, Janko Tipsarevic, announcing his withdrawal from the Chennai Open, a few days before the tournament started, with a chronic foot injury. Once the tournament began, third seed Fabio Fognini could make it through only a set and a half in his first match, before retiring with a thigh strain. Tournament second seed Mikhail Youzhny fared even worse, lasting a whole of four games before calling it quits.

As the tournament progressed, things got worse. Yen-Hsun Lu forfeited his second round match to Pospisil before a ball could be struck. By the time the semi-finals came around, the spate of withdrawals had almost become a norm, so much so that Pospisil’s retirement with a bad back during his match against Wawrinka, was received more with a sense of resignation than anything else.

Across the tournament, including Tipsarevic’s injury, there were a total of seven player retirements, either pre-match or mid-match. Playing schedules were turned on their heads, doubles specialists lost their partners, tournament organizers were quizzed about the alarming dropouts. In the end, it was a series of unfortunate events which remained outside anybody’s control, but one that definitely contributed to robbing a bit of the sheen off the tournament.

As an annual reaffirmation of Chennai’s loyalty to the sport

The city of Chennai’s continued patronage of the event was heartening to see. The crowds remained good right through the tournament, and even for the qualifying rounds that preceded it.

The crowd at the Chennai Open is always colourful and knowledgeable, and contributes substantially to the overall viewing experience. Similar to every other year, images from the crowd stand out in one’s memory after the conclusion of the tournament.

Like a jam-packed side court, enthralled as the Granollers-Paire quarterfinal match wound to an absorbing climax; every possible vantage point was taken, including adjacent courts, staircases and fences.

Like the most obscure of players being mobbed after every match for autographs and photos.

Like youngsters practising their French while supporting their favourite French players – “Allez, Vasselin!” “Tres bien, Paire!” “Encore, Encore!”

Like middle-aged mothers and young sons having heated discussions on the technical strengths and weaknesses of their preferred players.

Like the loud cheers that accompanied news of the State Government pumping in Rs. 45 million for the soon-to-begin renovation of the tennis stadium.

The last part was not too surprising, perhaps. There has always been a sense of ownership over this tournament for most regular patrons here; a sense of pride, community, and yes, familiarity, with the event. In that context, the Chennai Open continues to be the city’s annual tennis pilgrimage.

Edited by Staff Editor


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