January 7, 2017 2:31:18 am
They won four Challenger titles and their second ATP title in 2016 to climb to the top-70 in the men’s doubles rankings at the close of the year. Despite this successful run, Divij Sharan and Purav Raja haven’t been afforded the same limelight or attention that their countrymen in Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna garner. But this situation is certainly going to get better as the duo made the final of the Chennai Open – India’s only ATP 250 event – on Friday in convincing manner.
With a 6-4, 6-2 win in an hour-long contest, Sharan and Raja assured India of representation on the final day of the tournament and give crowd something to look forward to even as the singles representation came to an end when Yuki Bhambri lost to Benoit Paire. “Yeah, hopefully it will help people notice us. Obviously, it’s great to be in a tour event final. It’s not easy. Having played Challengers throughout the year, we don’t get too many opportunities. So, whenever we do get an opportunity, it is important to capitalise,” said Raja of the lack of exposure to their achievements.
“Obviously, we are not taking too much pressure. It will help us move up in the rankings. It’s a great start to 2017 and we are looking forward to the final,” he would further add.
And the left hand-right hand combination have made the most of the chances that they’ve created for themselves. They’ve made two ATP 250 finals in the past and won both (in Bogota in 2013 and Los Cabos last year).
Contrary to the traditional method of court coverage, left-handed Divij plays on the deuce court with the right-handed Raja covering the ad court. “Doubles has changed… I’ve played on the left before but with Purav it’s on the right,” is how Divij would explain the strategy before Raja would quip: “Much like Bob and Mike Bryan, no! (laugh) It gives us both forehands in the middle, which is beneficial,” he would state in the post-match press conference.
Their opponents for the final will be determined on Saturday night with an all-India final a possibility. Rohan Bopanna partners Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan in the semi-final against the American-Kiwi pairing of Nicholas Monroe and Artem Sitak. “We don’t think about these things (possible opponents). We try to win each match. Playing against Rohan and Jeevan or any other players will give us the same points but yes it will be good if the two Indian teams play,” Raja would say.
The duo have set themselves a target of getting into the top-30 by the end of the year and the way they’ve played this past week, that might not be a stretch of a target. But for that, fitness will be key for Divij (30) and Raja (31) and the latter admitted that he’s working on getting fitter. “I’m definitely working towards getting fitter and stronger. I’m playing with an extremely fit and fast player in Divij. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. This is one of the areas I’m trying to work on and it has definitely got better,” he would state.
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