From an under-achieving prodigy to being in the wilderness, and then waging an unlikely comeback, Prakash Amritraj’s career makes for a compelling read, with none of the usual flummery that accompanies tales of comebacks. His recovery from a set down to overcome Guillaume Rufin is pretty much macroscopic of his career. He struggled with his right shoulder, symbolic of his injury-ravaged career. But just when the cheers had died down, he staged a doughty comeback.
Add to that the fatigue of having played four matches — two of them three setters — in only three days. “I was feeling tired. But just when I walked into the stadium, I listened to the cheer of the crowd and it pumped me up. I told I’m not going to lose this match,” said Prakash, who was the last Indian to reach the main draw through the qualifying route.
But having faced adversity, he was unfazed. He tightened up his game thereafter and didn’t concede a single break point and held onto his serves. He broke him early in both the sets to turn into a one-sided contest. “I knew I just blew the opportunity (losing the first set). But I knew I had a chance if I execute my plans, which is exactly what I did. And there was a family member above (referring to his deceased grandfather) who was helping me,” he said.
Rufin, ranked 92, wasn’t the fiercest of competitors, and he erred once too often. But for a player ranked 549 to overcome him puts the latter’s effort into perspective.
Few hours after, wild card entrant Somdev Devvarman dispatched Czech Republic’s Jan Hajek. Considering that Devvarman had missed a majority of the previous season due to a shoulder injury and had negligible match practice, odds weren’t exactly tilted in the Indian’s favour. But he demonstrated considerable ease in dispatching Hajek, placed 84th in the ATP rankings.
Crucially, he moved assuredly on the court, without any signs of jitteriness as players experience on return from injury lay-offs. “That was the best part. I worked really hard for my fitness and I’m happy that it hasn’t dropped. The last year was tough but when looking back I feel happy that the efforts weren’t wasted,” said Devvarman.
Consequently, the note of pessimism that had shrouded the progress of Indian players proved unfounded. This may not last long, but as long as it lasts, the crowd would keep teeming in, a much-needed impetus for the tournament that is losing its allure. Prakash takes on eighth seed Go Soeda while Devvarman battles top seed Tomas Berdych. “He (Berdych) is a great player and you need something extraordinary to stay alive in that match,” said Devvarman. Something extraordinary is what the crowd would want, too.