New Delhi: Sania Mirza grabbed her third mixed doubles Grand Slam title and wrapped up her dream season with the year-end finale trophy even as India's established male tennis players found the going tough in 2014.
28-year-old Sania, who has many firsts to her name, grew further in stature as she became the first Indian to win the season-ending finale, a feat which has eluded even old war-horse Leander Paes.
Sania won the US Open with first-time partner Bruno Soares and now has three mixed doubles Grand Slam trophies in her cabinet which already consists of Australian Open and French Open. With her consistent performance throughout the year, Sania made seven WTA finals and won three titles with Zimbabwean partner Cara Black, achieving a career-best world rank of number five.
Sania's US Open title came after an unwarranted controversy created by a politician, who questioned her appointment as the Ambassador of the newly-created State of Telangana. The Hyderabadi broke down on TV, debating on the issue, but later answered in a befitting winner as she dedicated her US Open title to the people of Telangana.
She nearly courted another controversy after initially withdrawing her name from the national squad for the Asian Games but after being assured of a place in the WTA Finals, she decided to compete at the Incheon Games. Sania came out with a gold in the mixed doubles with Saketh Myneni and a bronze in women's doubles with Prarthana Thombare in India's five medal tally.
On the men's side, it proved to be a very tough year for not only singles star Somdev Devvarman buy also for doubles specialists Paes and Rohan Bopanna, who suffered a significant drop in the rankings. Paes could win only one title in the season and after beginning the year inside top-10 he is now languishing at number 29, just ahead of Bopanna.
The Coorgi's renewed partnership with Pakistani partner Aisam-ul-haq Qureshi also did not yield the desired results and they could win only one title this year apart from ending runners-up in two others. Bopanna had began the year at number 13 and ended at 30.
However, the biggest disappointment was to see Somdev struggling. Supremely fit and extremely passionate, Somdev was nowhere close to his best. Crossing even the second rounds seemed a mountain to climb for him.
Apart from the Challengers played in India at the start of the year, he hardly had results to rejoice. For someone who reached as high as 62 in the world, winning two rounds at an ATP event has become a a daunting task.
In 15 tournaments he failed to cross the first round. At the US Open, he could not make the main draw and now that he is positioned 139 in the rankings, he won't get a direct entry into the 2015 Australian Open. Not only this, by refusing to play at the Asian Games he irked the government, which has now made it clear that players who will skip national duty will not be eligible for funds.
However, Somdev did India proud in the two Davis Cup ties -- against Chinese Taipei and Serbia -- by winning two of the three singles he played this year. India almost upstaged world number two Serbia (second string) but for Yuki Bhambri's tame defeat in the deciding fifth rubber.
It was promising start to the year for Yuki when he qualified for the Australian Open doubles draw and made second round with Michael Venus. He also won the Chennai Challenger but a heel injury forced him out of action for four months. Injuries have already spoilt his career, which showed a lot of promise early on.
A big plus for Indian tennis was the rise of 19-year-old Ramkumar Ramanathan, who has replaced Yuki as country's second-highest ranked singles player. When he shocked Somdev at the start of the year many dismissed it as a fluke but as the year progressed, Ramkumar showed that his game and fitness has improved and he can surely be India's next singles hope. He now has sting in his serve and his forehand does make an impact.
Mahesh Bhupathi is as good as retired but he along with former star Vijay Amritraj created a lot of buzz with their respective tennis leagues. Bhupathi brought tennis' biggest stars, including Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, to India in a franchisee-based league, IPTL, which was a great opportunity for fans to see legendary players in blood and flesh.
Amritraj's CTL was more India-centric but lacked star appeal despite featuring some high-ranked players. CTL had presence of Indian players and someone like Ramkumar Ramanathan had the opportunity to play alongside Mikhail Youzhny.
It is debatable how these leagues will help Indian tennis but it surely did enough to create a buzz around the country.
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