As a youngster, why did you decide to take up tennis?
I was about nine years old when I got drawn to the game. One day, I just picked up a tennis racquet and started hitting the ball and I really liked the game. No one in my family has ever played the game and I wasnt forced into tennis. By the time I was 12 or 13, I started playing junior-level tournaments in Chennai and then moved to the US. After that, there was no looking back.
Who have been your idols?
I have always been a big Roger Federer fan. That man is unbelievable, he is a complete class act. What he has done for and brought to the game of tennis is unprecedented. The rest of us can just look at him in awe and hope to do as good as him someday. And, of course, as an aspiring tennis player in India, I always idolised the Krishnans and after that, of course, both Lea (Leander Paes) and Mahesh (Bhupathi) have been a major source of inspiration. I have enjoyed watching them play together. What those guys have done for Indian tennis is huge.
Which was that one moment or tournament when you realised that you were in the big league?
That would definitely have to be the Chennai Open this year. The fact that I reached the finals, defeating a former French Open champion like (Carlos) Moya, made me realise that I had it in me to pull off major upsets and score big wins. That was a defining moment for me.
What role have your parents and friends played in your choice of career?
From day one, my parents have been totally supportive. Unlike most other parents who are not really receptive towards a sporting career for their children, my parents never pushed me into academics. They knew that this is what I wanted to do and they have been with me every step of the way.
What have been the positives and negatives of taking up tennis as a sport?
Well, as expected, the positives have been many. As a tennis player, I get to travel a lot and see cool places. I meet new people almost everyday, which is a huge plus for me. Then of course is the fact that tennis is a global sport which has captured the imagination of the world for centuries and I feel privileged to be part of such a sport.
There are no negatives attached to the game as such, but the constant travelling does get tiring after a while. I am also not very comfortable with a lot of public attention on my life and that does prove to be a problem point.
You recently powered India into the Davis Cup world group with a win over South Africa. How did that feel?
Thats undoubtedly the biggest win of my career. We had just 10 days to prepare ourselves for the South African conditions. We had to adjust to the indoor courts, the lights. When I clinched the tie, just knowing that I had put India back in the world group was a huge moment for me.
What does this win mean to Somdev the tennis player and Somdev the person?
It means a lot to the tennis player in me because it just builds a lot more confidence in me. It makes me realise that I have it in me to get the big wins. As a person, I just am a very regular guy. I like doing all the normal things that people my age do. I am very grateful that my success hasnt changed me or the way my friends and family treat me.
What would your advice be for youngsters in India wanting to take up tennis as a sport?
Work hard and develop a love and passion for the game. Tennis is a great game and one can practically play it at any age. It can be a serious career option that brings both individual glory and provides an opportunity to do your bit for your country. Its very fulfilling to see a lot of young people taking up tennis. But be prepared to work your butt off!
What would you change about the way tennis is played and promoted in this country?
There should be an effort to raise awareness about the game and encourage kids to take up the sport. I know that cricket is the biggest game in this country and everyone seems to be naturally drawn to it, but there is life beyond cricket. Indian tennis has only one or two players to idolise as opposed to cricket where you have an entire team being idolised, but tennis is a global game unlike cricket where there are only 10-12 countries that actually play the sport. Dont get me wrong, I am a cricket watcher myself, but I just wish the country wakes up to other sports that are far more physically demanding.
What is your training schedule like?
That depends on what time of the year it is and whether there is a match the next day. Generally, I train for no less than 5-6 hours a day. That apart, I also take care of a lot of other things like what I eat and what time I sleep. In tennis, as in any other sport, discipline is as important as talent and skill.
What is the best compliment that you have got so far?
(Laughs) I dont know. No one seems to give me any compliments! (Pauses a while) I remember when (Andy) Roddick came up to me and complimented me on my style of play. That was a good one (smiles).
What Grand Slam goals are you setting, next year onwards?
Well, the first goal is to break into the top 100 (Somdev is now 124 on the ATP rankings list) so that I automatically get into the main draw without having to go through the qualifiers. Hopefully, that should happen soon. That apart, I just want to go out there and play to the best of my ability.
What other sport do you follow?
I like watching cricket. I have idolised Sachin Tendulkar for as long as I can remember. Back in the US, I also follow basketball, American football and soccer. I follow almost every kind of sport!
What is the way forward for Somdev Devvarman?
My commitment to the game is my priority. At 24, I know that I have only about 6-8 years of my good playing years left in me. I am looking to better my game and achieve my goals in the next few years. But above all, I just want to enjoy my game.
You spent your early years in Calcutta. What are your memories of the city?
My parents shifted to Calcutta when I was 3-4 months old and I spent eight years of my life there. We lived in Gariahat and I still have a lot of family and friends back there. I remember going to my playschool (St Marys primary school) and hanging out with a lot of other kids. I still speak quite a bit of broken Bengali (laughs). I especially remember the Durga Puja celebrations where we would get holidays from school and I would wear new clothes and go out with my parents to see the idols and buy knick-knacks from the fairs that sprung up during the Puja. It was so much fun.
And yes, rosogolla is still my favourite sweet!
Favourite shot: Tweener (the between-the-legs shot)
Favourite film: Good Will Hunting
Favourite actor: Matt Damon
Favourite actress: I really like Priyanka Chopra!
Favourite city: Chennai and Agartala
Favourite musician: I like listening to the Dave Matthews Band
I relax by: Watching TV, listening to music
Style quotient: I like to dress easy and casual. I feel most comfortable in shorts or jeans and a tee
If not a tennis player, I would have: Been a musician