Chance for youngsters to make a mark at Chennai Open tennis

January 4th, 2009 - 4:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Chennai, Jan 4 (IANS) The top seed at the ATP Chennai Open has not won the title in the past two years and Nikolay Davydenko could keep this in mind as the 14th edition of the tournament commences here Monday.Davydenko, the 27-year-old Ukrainian ranked 5 in the world is the only top-10 player in the 32-entry main draw of the singles competition and that alone makes him an overwhelming favourite to annex the crown in this event that offers a total prize-money of $450,000.

Davydenko, making his second appearance here in eight years, is the latest of top-notch players who have used the Chennai Open to get back into form after the winter break and prepare for the year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open.

Among those who have played here were Nadal, Patrick Rafter, Pat Cash, Carlos Moya and Boris Becker, all Grand Slam winners.

Moya, the 32-year old Spaniard has become a permanent fixture at the Chennai Open and is back for the sixth consecutive time. Seeded sixth, the 42nd ranked former French Open champion is the most consistent performer at the Chennai Open which he won twice in 2004 and 2005, and has been a semi-finalist in the following three years. As such, he is the sentimental favourite with his pin-up persona adding to his aura.

This year’s event looks wide open with several young players, notably from Europe looking good enough to get through the five matches to claim the winner’s cheque of $73,000.

In this bunch are the second seed Stanislas Wawrinka (Switzerland, No.13) and third seed Marin Cilic (Croatia, 23) whom the discern feel are the other strong contenders for the title.

Wawrinka, who partnered Roger Federer to win the doubles gold medal at the Beijing Olympics last year, broke into top-10 in May before slipping to 12 and then 13 after 22 weeks in October. Thus, it is not for nothing that this 23-year old Swiss is marked for bigger success in 2009 with Chennai Open providing an ideal launch pad.

Likewise, Cilic, only 20, and boasting of a huge frame of six feet, six inches, has been improving steadily. He won his first ATP title in New Haven as he used his powerful serves to good effect.

As for the Indian challenge, 25-year old Prakash Amritraj is the big hope, but then, he is up against fifth seeded Rainer Schuttler of Germany, a semi-finalist at the 2008 Wimbledon and ranked 33. In fact, Amritraj, ranked 211, has been a regular since his wild card debut in 2003, but has made it past the first round only twice and has his work cut out against the 32-year old German.

The other Indian wild card entry, 23-year-old Somdev Dev Varman, ranked 205, has drawn Kevin Kim of the US as his first round opponent. Kim, the 30-year old of Korean parentage, is ranked 117, but has been off the tennis radar for the whole of 2008 after dropping out of top-100 the previous year. A win for Varman would not be a huge surprise.

The home crowd will have a lot to cheer in doubles where Mahesh Bhupathy/Mark Knowles and Leander Paes/Lukas Dlouhy head the seedings, the 13th and 23rd ranked pairs, respectively.

The tournament has changed avatars since its inception in 1996 as the McDowell Indian Open that was held in New Delhi. It was subsequently shifted to Chennai in 1997 and re-christened Gold Flake Open after its sponsors, the ITC Ltd.

The tobacco giant pulled out in 2002 and the Tata Group stepped in on a three-year deal. In 2005, the Tata Open was re-named Chennai Open after the Tamil Nadu government took charge by putting together a consortium of sponsors.

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