Weeks after the International Premier Tennis League wowed Indian tennis fans with its brand of made-for-television with and its several innovations, its time for the biggest professional tennis tournament in India. The Aircel Chennai Open, now in its 20th year, kicks off on Monday. And while there may be no Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic in the draw, there’s still plenty of reasons to get excited about India’s only event on either the men’s or women’s professional tennis tours.
Australian Open Champ Stan Wawrinka is Back to Defend His Title
Last year, Stan Wawrinka won the Chennai Open for the second time in his career, and then went on to play the best tennis of his life as he conquered his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. As a reigning Grand Slam champion, Wawrinka could have earned a high amount of appearance fees to play either of the other ATP events this week in Brisbane or Doha. But the 29-year-old chose to come back to Chennai for the sixth year in a row to begin his season. As the top seed, Wawrinka has a bye in the first round but he could face a tough second round draw against the 18-year-old Borna Coric. The Croatian teenager is ranked No. 102 in the world after breaking into the Top 100 in November and already has a win over Rafael Nadal, making him one of the next-gen players to watch out for. Coric has a big game – he says he plays like Djokovic when he is good and like Murray when he plays bad – and a big ambition – he says he is playing tennis to become World No. 1 and not to just break into the Top 20.
Wawrinka’s Path to the Final
If Wawrinka is able to get past Coric, he could meet Gilles Muller, the veteran from Luxembourg, in the quarter-finals. 31-year-old Muller is seeded eighth and was one of the finalists for the ATP Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2014 after climbing from No. 360 to the Top 50 over the past 12 months.
Wawrinka’s projected semi-final opponent is the No. 4 seed David Goffin, the 24-year-old from Belgium who beat Muller and several others to win the ATP Comeback Player of the Year honours last year. Goffin had an incredible latter half off 2014 which saw him win 44 of 48 matches from July to November – a run that included three consecutive ATP Challenger titles and his first two ATP titles. The diminutive Belgian, who also has a bye in the first round, could meet former junior No. 1 Ricardis Berankis in the second round and seventh seed Marcel Granollers in the quarter-finals.
Feliciano Lopez leads Spaniards in the Bottom Half of the Draw
Spain’s Feliciano Lopez comes into this year’s Chennai Open as the No. 2 seed and playing the best tennis of his life. The 33-year-old is ranked a career-best No. 14 in the world and will be the favourite in the bottom half of the draw, which also includes his 26-year-old countryman Roberto Bautista Agut, the ATP Most Improved Player of the Year Winner in 2014, fifth seeded Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and sixth seed Yen-Hsun Lu.
Devvarman and Ramanathan face tough first round opponents
Lu faces India’s No. 1 Somdev Devvarman in the first round. The 29-year-old Devvarman had an early exit in Chennai last year and a poor 2014 season which saw him slide out of the Top 100. Devvarman is one of two Indians who received a wild card into the main draw – the other being his conqueror from 2014 in Chennai – the 20-year-old Ramkumar Ramanathan. Hailed as the future of Indian tennis, Ramanathan has sky-rocketed up the rankings in 2014 and faces Japan’s Tatsuma Ito in the first round. Local fans will be hoping either of the Indians will disrupt the order and produce a home champion for the first time in the history of the event.
Paes and Bhupathi could clash in the second round of the doubles event
While no Indians may have won the singles title (Devvarman is the only Indian player to reach the final when he lost to Marin Cilic in the 2009 title match), local players have won the doubles title on six occasions thus far. And there’s a very good chance that number could go up to seven. 41-year-old Leander Paes and his 99th partner Raaven Klassen are the top seeds in the doubles draw. Paes could have a match-up with former partner Mahesh Bhupathi in the second round. Bhupathi, partnering fellow Indian Saketh Myneni, will be playing his first match on the tour since March. Meanwhile India’s second-best doubles player Rohan Bopanna has decided to skip this year’s edition as he decided to play with new partner Daniel Nestor in the ATP Brisbane event.
Sriram Balaji and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan have also received a wild card into the doubles draw while Purav Raja partners Adil Shamasdin. There is still some hope for more Indian representation in the singles draw with the qualifying draw currently underway. Teenager Sasikumar Mukund and Kaza Vinayak Sharma have made it to the final round.
Chennai fans love their tennis and this year’s edition promises to be another exciting chapter in the history of India’s biggest tennis extravaganza. Will Warinka be able to win a third Chennai title and gain some confidence ahead of his Australian Open defence? Will one of the Spaniards like Lopez, Bautista Agut or Garcia-Lopez, be able to derail the Swiss Express from his tracks? Or will one of the Indians have a breakthrough that could set them up for a big 2015 season? We’ll find out soon as the action kicks off on Monday.