Czech Davis Cup star and World No.6 Tomas Berdych has a great chance to not only live up to his reputation but also begin the New Year with a title triumph at the ATP Chennai Open tennis tournament which commences here Monday after a wet weekend.
The 25-year-old Berdych was a semi-finalist here in 2011 as the top seed, when he lost to eventual champion Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka, who is seeded fourth this year, and would be keen to justify his top billing this time around.
However, Berdych could run into third-seeded Marin Cilic, winner here in 2009 and 2010, in the semi-finals. Berdych, the 2010 Wimbledon finalist, enjoys a 4-1 win-loss record over the 24-year-old Croatian, who is returning here after a year’s break following his first round loss in 2011.
In the bottom half, last year’s finalist and second seed Janko Tipsarevic from Serbia is expected to clash with Wawrinka in the semi-finals that, if it materialises, should make for an intriguing contest.
Tipsarevic, the 28-year-old World No.9, came close to winning his maiden Chennai Open title last year but went down to the big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic in the final that was marked by three tie-breaks.
The 27-year old Swiss Wawrinka, ranked No.17, who won his only meeting with Tipsarevic on clay this summer in Rome, had a disappointing 2011 Chennai Open campaign, losing in the quarter-finals to qualifier Go Saeda from Japan.
Much of the attention in the singles draw would be on the top four seeds, though home hopes Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri will be the cynosure in the early part of the week. The two wildcard entries are not expected to cause major ripples as both have tough first round matches against higher ranked players.
Devvarman, finalist here in 2009, has had more than his share of injuries that saw his ranking freefall from a high of 62 in July 2011 to the current 663, and faces World No.106 Jan Hajek from the Czech Republic in the first round.
The 20-year-old Bhambri, at 217, holds out a lot of promise, but is still to find his feet on the pro tour. The Davis Cupper opens against 56th ranked Robin Haase of the Netherlands, the sixth seed.
Over the years, Chennai Open has never failed to throw up surprises and it is unlikely it will be any different this time with a few floaters in the draw who can trip the big guns.
The scenario in the doubles event is not much different, though the focus would be on the three big Indian names, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna, all of whom have opted for new partners, but remain the players to watch.
Top seeded Bhupathi has paired with Canadian Daniel Nestor while Paes has opted for Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Bopanna will partner Rajeev Ram from the United States.
In happier times, the classy Paes and Bhupathi combined to win five times, the last being in 2011 when they came together briefly before parting ways for good. Paes won his sixth Chennai Open doubles crown last year in the company of Tipsarevic.
Paes went on to win three other titles, including the Australian Open, but with Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic while the Bhupathi-Bopanna combine won two.
Given their track record, it is difficult to see beyond the three Indian stars to win the doubles crown but they will have to be at the top of their game to achieve success.