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Determined to succeed

National Junior hardcourt champion Somdev K. Dev Varman has a dream... of making it to the Davis Cup team. A profile of a rising star in the Chennai tennis circuit.

TO PICK out one among a talented lot is an exercise that's bound to evoke some debate. But if the person in question is intelligent and committed like the current National Junior hardcourt champion, Somdev K. Dev Varman, there could be little room for the Doubting Thomases.

Born in Guwahati and hailing from North-Eastern State of Tripura, it's Chennai that is `home' to Somdev. ``I love Chennai and am happy with my circle of friends here. I could not have been in a better place,'' says Somdev, who moved to the city in 1993 to join the Britannia Amritraj Trust (BAT).

Joining BAT at such a young age had its share of heartaches. ``I did miss my parents initially, and they missed me too but once they knew that I was in safe hands, they stopped worrying,'' says the tennis player relaxing at the BAT hostel in Anna Nagar East, after spending the night watching the U.S. Open final between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.

He got his first AITA Zonal (Under 16) title in 1998 at Thiruvananthapuram. Just before the tournament, he had signed up with the BAT and his parents were keen that their youngest son made a memorable entry into BAT. ``My mother hoped I would win,'' says Somdev. In the championship, he beat many higher ranked players such as V. Vignesh, Avinash Reddy and Tejeswar to claim his first of the eight AITA Zonal titles. Out of the eight titles, three were won in Chennai, one each in Bhubaneswar, Pondicherry, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram.

The 17-year-old was in the news for remaining unbeaten in nine successive matches, and there was a lot of speculation about whether he would achieve a ten out of ten when he took on friend and co-trainee at BAT, Jaco T. Mathew in the final. Explains Somdev, ``I won the Adidas under-18 title in 2001 beating Rohan Gajjar and R. Arun Prakash before clashing with Jaco the following week in the final of the National Junior Championship in Chennai.''

Somdev went down fighting. Incidentally, he has never defeated Jaco in six encounters.

If at all the MCC-TNTA National Junior Championship proved anything, it was this — Somdev should play consistently in the men's section. Except for V.M. Ranjeet, who stretched it to three sets in their quarterfinals, Somdev was hardly tested in the championship. ``It feels good to know that you are on the top in the junior category. I know that now I will have to prove myself in the men's category.''

His maiden under-18 title was in the Adidas AITA Tournament in 2001, which was followed by victories in the ITF junior (grade 4) tourney at Kolkata and the National Junior Championship in August this year in Chennai. The ITF junior tournament win at Kolkata will be special as it was his first international title. He defeated Amit Inbar of Israel in the finals. ``I was 2-5 down in the final set and he had a match point too. I pulled off somehow,'' recalls Somdev.

Admitting that he does feel envious when he sees some players tour abroad regularly, Somdev says he has had no regrets at having chosen BAT, which is known to maintain a strict code of discipline. ``I could not have come this far without BAT,'' he says, adding, ``I was not keen on fitness but once I joined BAT, I realised that hard way is the best way.''

Travel is something he loves to. ``I want to go to Spain because you can train there without getting tired,'' says Somdev, whose idol is Russian Marat Safin. He never tires of mentioning his mentors, Ilyas Hussain and Ramalinga Reddy, who is no longer with BAT. ``They have a lot of patience. Even if I wanted them to throw balls at noon, they would not hesitate.'' Somdev values Reddy for his ability to perk up the mood of the trainees. ``He is a big motivator, and I am going to miss him when I travel.''

Somdev then proudly shows you a portrait hung in one corner of the hostel. The picture shows Vijay Kannan, Kamala Kannan and Benjamin Xavier, among others, with Anand Amritraj. ``They were all with BAT during their early days.'' He also does not fail to mention that in the last six years, from 1997, at the Junior National championship held in Chennai, it has been boys from BAT who have won the title. He has given himself two years to make a mark at the men's level, and is pretty confident of achieving it given his work ethics.

The ITF men's Futures Championship in Chennai where he made his debut, and the Satellite circuit the same year, have given him a fair idea of the struggles that lie ahead.

Somdev says, ``The Davis Cup is wide open. The one who wants the most is going to get it,'' he says. While hoping to get into the team, he also realises this is going to be a tough task.

With the support of considerate and co-operative parents and an institution like BAT to guide him, Somdev should not find it difficult to realise his dream.

K. KEERTHIVASAN

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