HARDLY STRETCHED:Somdev Devvarman romped home in straight sets to win the singles gold in the Asian Games in Guangzhou on Tuesday. —
GUANGZHOU: Somdev Devvarman won his second gold medal of the Asian Games, demolishing top seed Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan 6-1, 6-2 in the men's singles final here on Tuesday.
It called for a solid gameplan to beat the 40th-ranked Istomin, who has had a fine run this season. The Uzbek played a thrilling five-setter against eventual runner-up Tomas Berdych before losing in the third round at Wimbledon.
Second-seeded Devvarman, ranked 106, not only had the right strategy but also executed it well. The Indian, feeling at home on the slow centre court and playing in front of a near capacity crowd that had assembled to cheer Shuai Peng to the women's title, never allowed Istomin to get into his rhythm.
Devvarman, extremely confident after clinching the doubles gold with Sanam Singh and guiding the Indian team to a bronze medal, hit his strokes fluently.
More importantly, he was able to hit deep whenever required. His big serves and spanking winners simply exasperated Istomin.
Though it was his 15th match of the tournament, Devvarman had a lot of life in his legs and a high degree of concentration to emerge a “worthy champion,” as Indian coach Nandan Bal put it.
In contrast, Istomin struggled to find his touch. He tried hard but could not put together a meaningful challenge.
After having lost all his four service games in the first set, Istomin looked like a scorpion without its sting.
In fact, Istomin held serve only once in the whole match and that was in the second game of the second set.
The key to the contest was Devvarman holding serve by saving two breakpoints in the second game of the first set and racing to a 5-0 lead, then saving another breakpoint in the third game of the second set.
That helped the Indian retain the momentum.
After losing serve in the fifth game of the second set, Devvarman responded brilliantly, sweeping the next three games for the loss of just three points. Facing match point after double-faulting, Istomin put a forehand wide. Devvarman lay prone on his back, thanking the heavens for showering so many medals on him.
“It is very special. I am happy to have got the gold medals. I couldn't have done any better. I had dreamt about it, but I woke up,'' said Devvarman, showing his humility and sense of humour.
Incidentally, he became the first Indian tennis player to win the individual gold in the Asian Games.
The previous best was Sania Mirza's silver in the last edition in Doha. Leander Paes, Prahlad Srinath and Mahesh Bhupathi had won bronze medals.
Devvarman also had the distinction of being the first Indian to win two gold medals in the current Games and the only one so far to win both the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games gold medals.
Devvarman thanked the coaches and said the gold medals were a result of hard work.
It was this sweat and toil that helped him have a spectacular second half of the season when he won a Challenger to break into the top-100 in the world rankings.
Though the Davis Cup triumph against Brazil in Chennai in September to stay in the World Group was equally special, Devvarman said he would not compare the two as it would be akin to comparing oranges with apples.
Gracious in defeat
Istomin was as gracious in defeat as he was in offering a point to opponent Karan Rastogi in the quarterfinals when the umpire had called the match for the Uzbek.
That sportsmanship was acknowledged by the Asian Tennis Federation (ATF) when its president Anil Khanna presented Istomin with the fairplay trophy.
It was the first win for Devvarman against Istomin in three meetings.
There were tears in Devvarman's eyes when the Indian flag went up and the national anthem was played at the tennis complex for the second time.
“I got a little emotional. I dedicate the medals to all the people of India, my family, friends, and every kid who is sincerely working hard,'' he said.
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