Divij Sharan equalled his best Grand Slam performance by reaching the men’s doubles third round at the Australian Open, while Rohan Bopanna also entered the pre-quarterfinals with his partner, in Melbourne on Friday.
Sharan and American Ram faced stiff resistance from Fabio Fognini and Marcel Granollers before winning 4-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 in the second round which lasted for two hours and eight minutes.
The left-handed Sharan’s serve came under pressure in the tight second set but he was excellent at the net, producing some quality volleys.
Last year Sharan had made the third round at the French Open with Purav Raja. He had also reched the US Open third round in 2013.
Also making progress was the 10th seeded Indo-French team of Bopanna and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, who knocked out Portugal’s Joao Sousa and Leonardo Mayer of Argentina 6-2 7-6 (3).
They are now up against seventh seeds Mate Pavic of Croatia and Austria’s Oliver Marach who edged out Artem Sitak and Wesley Koolhof 6-7 (5) 6-4 6-4.
It was a happy day for Indian doubles stars at the Australian Open as they all progressed into the second round, without dropping a set between them.
The all-India pair of Leander Paes and Purav Raja, which had faced some tough losses in the run-up to the first Grand Slam of the season, was ruthless in dismissing Nikoloz Basilashvili and Andreas Haider-Maurer for the loss of five games.
Leander and Purav will next challenge teh fifth seeds Jamie Murray of Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil.
Rohan Bopanna in partnership with Edouard Roger-Vasselin of Canada warmed up for the tougher challenges ahead with a 6-2, 7-6(5) victory over Ryan Harrison of the US and Vasek Pospisil of Canada.
Bopanna and partner will next play Leonardo Mayer of Argentina and Joao Sousa of Portugal.
Divij Sharan in partnership with Rajeev Ram of the US had an equally interesting start by beating Marius Copil of Romania and Viktor Troicki of Serbia 7-6(5), 6-4.
The Indo-American combination will next play Fabio Fognini of Italy and Marcel Granollers of Spain.
Only Rohan Bopanna has been able to make the mixed doubles draw, and in partnership with world No.7 in doubles, Timea Babos of Hungary.
The joy of the Indian camp was enhanced as Akanksha Bhan, coached by Shrimal Bhatt, won two rounds of the qualifying event in the girls section to make the cut for the main draw.
Men’s doubles (first round): Rajeev Ram (US) & Divij Sharan bt Marius Copil (Rou) & Viktor Troicki (Srb) 7-6(5), 6-4; Edouard Roger-Vasselin (Fra) & Rohan Bopanna bt Ryan Harrison (US)& Vasek Pospisil (Can) 6-2, 7-6(5); Leander Paes & Purav Raja bt Nikoloz Bavishvili (Geo) & Andreas Haider-Maurer (Aut) 6-2, 6-3.
Girls qualifying singles (second and final round): Akanksha Bhan bt Rina Saigo (Jpn) 6-2, 6-4; First round: Akanksha Bhan bt Lia Mays (Aus) 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.
NEW DELHI, JAN. 17:
Fourth seeds Sriram Balaji and Vishnu Vardhan missed their chances and were beaten in the pre-quarterfinals of doubles by wild card entrants Jan Choinski and Marvi Moeller of Germany in the €43,000 Challenger tennis tournament in Germany.
Balji and Vardhan converted only two of 18 breakpoints that they forced, while the Germans prevailed by winning three of 10 breakpoints. In fact, the Indian duo won 76 points, four more than their opponents in the match, but missed the ones that mattered.
In fact, the Indian pair had five setpoints in the second set, but the Germans served their way out of trouble, especially from 0-40 at 5-6.
In the ITF Futures in China, Asian junior champion Nitin Kumar Sinha fought his way into the quarterfinals of singles. The top seeds in doubles, Arjun Kadhe and Lakshit Sood, however, were beaten in the doubles quarterfinals.
€ 43,000 Challenger men, Koblenz, Germany
Doubles (pre-quarterfinals): Jan Choinski & Marvin Moeller (Ger) bt Sriram Balaji & Vishnu Vardhan 6-4, 7-6(7).
$15,000 ITF men, Anning, China
Singles (pre-quarterfinals): Nitin Kumar Sinha bt Mats Rosenkranz (Ger) 7-6(4), 6-7(2), 6-0.
Doubles (quarterfinals): Ruikai Wang & Ruixuan Wang (Chn) bt Arjun Kadhe & Lakshit Sood 6-1, 7-6(8).
The mercury hasn’t risen as much as expected at the Australian Open so far. For a Major known for its sweltering heat, that had once melted Jo-Wilfred Tsonga’s shoes on court, this time the harsh rays of sunshine have been replaced by heavy rain that delayed qualifying round matches.
One such tie was between India’s Yuki Bhambri and Canadian youngster Peter Polansky – a third round affair to decide who would make it to the main draw. And as the anxiety crept in courtesy of the match being postponed by a day, Bhambri dropped the first set 1-6.
“I was nervous in the first set. I didn’t move well or hit as freely as I could have,” he says. “In the second I had to make sure I didn’t give him a lead, so I thought I’d start hitting and see where it goes. I managed to find my rhythm and started striking the ball and moving freely.”
The 25-year-old started to claw his way back, and after an hour and 55 minutes, he registered a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 win to become the only Indian singles player at the tournament to qualify for the main draw.
The World No.121 had earlier gotten the better of Brayden Schnur and Spaniard Carlos Taberner in the first and second qualifying rounds, before becoming the first
Indian since Saketh Myneni at the US Open 2016, to make it to the main draw of a Grand Slam.
For Bhambri though, this was the least that he had expected of himself. “Since the 2018 season started, I’ve had high expectations from myself and I did have the belief that I would qualify,” he says. “I felt I’ve had good preparation with a lot of matches under the belt. But this was the next target, now I just hope I can get a few wins.”
The major in Melbourne has “always been (his) favourite.” He’s qualified for the main draw of a Grand Slam only twice before, both at Melbourne when he played at the 2015 and 2016 editions. Incidentally, the former junior World No.1 had also won the junior Australian Open title in 2009.
Conditions have been pleasant so far. “The last few years have been hot, but it’s quite cool here right now,” Bhambri says. “It’s more draining in the heat but easier when it’s cooler. But the players are used to adjusting to the temperature. The courts too have been on the faster side.”
It’s under these conditions that Bhambri, Ramkumar Ramanthan, Sumit Nagal and Prajnesh Gunneswaran competed in the qualifiers. This was the first time four Indian players were featuring in the singles qualifiers of a major. But only Bhambri and Ramkumar reached the third round.
The second highest Indian player, ranked 20 places behind Bhambri, came up against Canadian Vasek Pospisil. The 23-year-old was vying for his first appearance in a main draw, and did well to overcome his first set loss, only to be broken at a crucial moment when serving at 4-5 in the final set. Ramkumar eventually lost 4-6, 6-4, 4-6.
Bhambri, the only one to make it into the final 128, now plays Marcos Baghdatis in the first round.
In his previous first round appearances, the Delhi-lad had come up against Andy Murray (2015) and then World No.6 Tomas Berdych (2016). Baghdatis, himself is a former World No.8, had reached the final of the 2006 Australian Open.
But the veteran Cypriot had a torrid 2017 season, starting the year at 36 but falling down to his current 101 standing.
Against the erratic 32-year-old, Bhambri senses a chance. “I’ve hit with him at the Bollettieri Academy, so he’s not unfamiliar,” he asserts. “It’s an opportunity for me. He (Baghdatis) is coming fresh into this season, but I’ve had a few matches to find my rhythm. So I definitely have a shot.”
He has done his bit to give himself the best chance as well. He’s travelling now with both a coach, Steven Koon (who trains veteran Taiwanese player Yen-Hsun Lu) and trainer Abhimanyu Singh. The only thing, oddly, India’s highest ranked singles player is missing is an apparel sponsor.