India dominated their own competition while China’s Peng Shuai tasted glory at the Shenzhen Open, as Gruffudd Owen reports
For a nation with such a proud and decorated history in the paired format of the game, how fitting that India’s Rohan Bopanna and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan were crowned men’s doubles champions at the 2017 Aircel Chennai Open, much to the delight of the home crowd.
Their 6-3, 6-4 victory – they are the country’s first pairing to win the tournament since 2011 – will give those invested in Indian tennis some encouragement that 2017 can bring further on-court success to South Asia.
That the beaten finalists Purav Raja and Divij Sharan also hail from the country – making it the first time in the Open’s history that four Indians have competed in the doubles final – is an added cause for optimism, as Bopanna was quick to point out after lifting the trophy.
"It was a big step for tennis to have four Indians playing in the finals,” he said.
"If this inspires even or two kids to take up tennis, I will be such a happy person.”
In the men’s singles, Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain breezed past Russia’s Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 6-4 in 73 minutes to clinch his first Aircel Chennai Open title, making up for his 2013 disappointment where he fell to Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic in the decider.
The Spaniard’s feat sees him bring his fine spell of form at the back end of 2016 (including a victory over then-world no. 1 Novak Djokovic on his way to the Shanghai Masters final) into the new year, with the 28-year-old thrilled to have made such a strong start to 2017.
“I played a great match tactically. I was very solid and could play aggressively whenever I wanted,” he explained.
“My game plan was to keep Medvedev moving. I returned very well and that put pressure on his serve, and he started making mistakes.”
Over in China, Peng Shuai was also a source of patriotic pride by becoming the country’s first player to win the women’s doubles title at the Shenzhen Open.
Teaming up with Andrea Hlaváčková to form a Sino-Czech alliance, they overcame Romania’s Raluca Olaru and Ukraine’s Olga Savchuk 6-1, 7-5, with Shuai triumphing where two different all-Chinese pairings had failed in the doubles finals of 2015 and 2016.
There was another Czech success story in the women’s singles as Kateřina Siniaková beat the USA’s Alison Riske 6-3, 6-4 for the first WTA title of the youngster’s career.
Next up is the 2017 Australian Open – the first grand slam of the calendar year – beginning in a week’s time.