Cheni, Jan 4: While World No.4 Stan Wawrinka, the top seed and defending champion, will hog much of the attention at the $450,000 Aircel Cheni Open commencing here on Monday, Indian tennis icon Leander Paes starting his 25th season on the ATP Tour will also have his share. as .
Paes, the doubles specialist, at 41 continues his efforts to get back into top 10 from his present ranking of 29 and still harbours hopes of playing in his seventh Olympics, at Rio in 2016. But his immediate target is to improve his doubles ranking that has nosedived.
Winner of 14 Grand Slam doubles titles, Paes said in a recent interview: “At this stage in my career, I am playing for pure passion. It is actually quite a refreshing feeling.”
The 2014 season which he described as “probably the hardest I had as a professiol athlete”, saw him pairing up with different partners, but with just one title (Kuala Lumpur) to show.
Paes will be partnering South Africa’s 32–year–old Raven Klaasen and the duo is given the pride of place in doubles seedings, but the scratch combition may not find the path to fil easy.
Paes’ former partner Mahesh Bhupathi, who sat out the whole of 2014 season, has paired with young compatriot Saketh Myneni.
However, it remains to be seen whether 40–year–old Bhupathi, winner of 52 titles, but currently ranked 344 in the doubles, would continue to be active for the remainder of the year.
Meanwhile, 29–year–old Swiss ace Wawrinka who won the Australian Open, his first Slam title, after taking the Cheni Open crown last year, is at the peak of his career as he closed the 2014 season by helping his country win the Davis Cup for the first time.
Wawrinka, seeking to become the first player to win singles title here for the third time, is in the same half as fourth–seeded David Goffin of Belgium, ranked 22 and a quarter–filist here in 2012.
Goffin too enjoyed a fair 2014 season which saw him rise from 111 to career–high 22 after recovering from a wrist surgery he underwent in September 2013. His performances won him the Comeback Player of the Year’ award.
Wawrinka and Goffin are expected to meet in the semi–fils with the dice certainly loaded in favour of the Swiss who won 7–6, 7–6, in their only previous clash which was here in 2011 in the pre–quarter–fils.
In the bottom half of the draw, World No.14 Feliciano Lopez of Spain, making his debut in the Cheni Open as the second seed, and compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut (15), the third seed and a filist here in 2013, appear set for a semi–fil clash.
From India’s perspective, Somdev Devvarman, filist here in 2009, has a tough task on hand as he goes up against Chinese–Taipeia’s Yen–Hsun Lu, the sixth seed and ranked 38 as against the home player’s 138.
Though 29–year–old Devvarman has beaten Lu in a Davis Cup tie, the Chinese–Taipei player performed far better on the tour last year when he jumped from 65 to 38, a win over World No.5 Berdych in Cincinti Masters 1000 being the high point.
Devvarman, who was ranked 62 in 2011 before injuries weighed him down, said: “It is going to be tough. He has had a fantastic year. We practiced together in Doha during the off–season and I know he can be a difficult opponent.”
The other Indian in the main draw Ramkumar Ramathan, the 241 ranked wild card entry, faces Japanese Tatsuma Ito who with a current ranking of 93, is expected to win the first round match. IANS