Former Virginia Star Somdev Devvarman Survives Qualifying at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic

Somdev Devvarman, shown last year, won two NCAA singles titles.
Somdev Devvarman, shown last year, won two NCAA singles titles. (By Joel Richardson For The Washington Post)
By Bill Oram
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 3, 2009

After six games Sunday, of which Somdev Devvarman won just two and spent running sprints between sidelines, he retreated to the locker room at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Northwest Washington. A quick rain shower provided a brief respite from the pelting of 120-mph serves from Josselin Ouanna.

At his locker, Devvarman, 24, who won two NCAA singles titles at the University of Virginia, peeled a banana and drank a bottle of water, evaluating what was happening in the first set that had him in a 4-2 hole in the qualifying round at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic.

"I don't like that I [was losing] that game, but I like how I set up myself to create chances and all that I got to do now is step up and take those chances," he later said.

After the half-hour delay, Ouanna didn't let down, winning three games to take the first set and a 1-0 lead in the second. But roles quickly reversed, with Devvarman claiming control, mixing soft shots with powerful blows right down the line that often times left the Frenchman flat-footed. He won seven straight games and withstood a late surge by Ouanna, who committed seven double faults, in the third set to win, 2-6, 6-1, 7-5.

"I really felt like I was playing a little too defensive and he's the kind of player that loves to play offense and doesn't like playing as much defense," Devvarman said. "I didn't really start hitting the ball much bigger but just my court positioning and making him a little uncomfortable of where I was standing sometimes."

Devvarman has shown himself to be quite comfortable at the Legg Mason. After ousting Ouanna, he qualified for the tournament the third year in a row. Last year, he made a surprise run to the quarterfinals.

Devvarman entered Sunday's match ranked 152nd in the world, while Ouanna was seeded higher and ranked 110th. He rose to fame with a trip to the quarterfinals at this year's French Open and boasted a win over former world No. 1 Marat Safin.

The year since Devvarman has joined the ATP World Tour has been difficult. He's 5-1 this year, but is still trying to establish a foothold as an international contender. The high point of this season came in May in Chennai, India, his home town. He reached the final after a semifinal walkover, eventually losing to Marin Cilic of Croatia, who is 15th in the world. Growing up, Devvarman honed his game while dreaming of playing at center court at the Chennai Open. With his family watching him play for the first time since he joined the tour, he lost in straight sets in the final.

"It was definitely a dream come true for me," Devvarman said. "It would have been a better dream for me if I actually won that tournament.

The hometown feel at Chennai was similar to Devvarman's experience at the Legg Mason. His back-to-back singles titles in 2007 and 2008 made him a notable figure around Charlottesville, where he still lives, and as the only local in the 48-player field he had a large support group in the stands Sunday.

"I just love playing in front of a crowd that's like that," he said.

After Devvarman's final shot, a deceptive forehand that Ouanna didn't even bother moving toward, the crowd erupted and the 152nd-ranked player in the world gave three quick fist pumps.

And while it was just qualifying, by earning a spot in the main draw, against Japan's Yuichi Sugita, Devvarman created a bigger opportunity for himself. In the interview room after the grueling match, he leaned back in his chair and shared the key to reaching a point where he doesn't need to work so hard to qualify for a tour event.

"It's very simple," he said. "Just keep winning matches, keep improving in practice -- and winning matches."

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