Inspired by Paes and Bhupathi, Divij Sharan has carved his own road

Asian Games gold medallist and consistent winner on the ATP Challenger tour, Divij Sharan is one of India’s hopefuls heading to Tokyo 2020.

The exploits of doubles duo Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi on the hallowed grounds of international tennis such as Wimbledon and Roland Garros at the end of the last century served to cultivate a genuine interest for the sport in India.

It particularly struck a chord with a young boy in New Delhi, as Divij Sharan was among those awestruck and inspired by the pair’s success.

While like so many others around the world he idolised Roger Federer as well, it was Paes and Bhupathi’s achievements that had hit closer to home and it eventually spurred a seven-year-old Divij Sharan to take up the sport.

Grinding away at his craft tirelessly at the local academy and maturing as a player, the southpaw soon realised that his true professional calling lay in the doubles game, just like it did for Paes and Bhupathi.

That decision validated itself as Sharan went on to be a regular contender on the ATP tour, winning at least one ATP Challenger title every year between 2011-19 while also racking up medals in prestigious international competitions such as the Asian Games.

While his best finish on the Grand Slam circuit till date remains reaching the quarter-final stage at the 2018 Wimbledon Open, Sharan continues to be among India’s strongest doubles contenders on the ATP Tour and one of its hopefuls heading into Tokyo 2020.

‘Futures’ star and first ATP Challenger triumph

Divij Sharan’s early professional career was highlighted by success in the ITF Futures circuit. He won his first Futures doubles title — the Nigeria F1 Futures — in 2007 and went on to pick up 19 more Futures titles in the years that followed.

Having spent five years on the ITF circuit, 2011 brought with it Sharan’s first doubles ATP Challenger title. Paired up with compatriot Karan Rastogi at the Ningbo Challenger in China, Sharan came from a set down to beat Czech Republic's Jan Hernych and Estonia's Juergen Zopp 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 13-11.

After this first major taste of success, nothing, it seemed, could stop Divij Sharan, as he went on a streak of consistency, assuring at least one ATP title for the next eight years and counting.

In 2012, he romped his way to eight ATP Challenger finals and won two of them — the Busan Challenger in South Korea alongside Yuki Bhambri, and the Bangkok Challenger with Vishnu Vardhan.

Ruling alongside the Raja

Purav Raja, like Divij Sharan, began playing tennis at the age of seven and has gone to become a doubles specialist, and the first time the Mumbai man paired up with his Delhi compatriot was all the way back to the ITF circuit in 2011, when they won the India F1 in Raja’s home base.

Divij Sharan also notched up his very first ATP World Tour title alongside Purav Raja at the 2013 Claro Open in Bogota, Colombia.

Mens doubles winners Purav Raja and Divij Sharan pose with their 2016 Aegon Manchester Trophy in Manchester, England.
Mens doubles winners Purav Raja and Divij Sharan pose with their 2016 Aegon Manchester Trophy in Manchester, England.Mens doubles winners Purav Raja and Divij Sharan pose with their 2016 Aegon Manchester Trophy in Manchester, England.

However, 2016 was the year the duo ruled the courts, reaching the finals of six ATP Challenger rounds and winning four of them — till date Sharan’s most successful year on the Challenger tour.

Acing the Asian Games

Apart from the ATP circuit, Divij Sharan has also been quite a contender at the Asian Games.

In 2014, he paired up with Yuki Bhambri for the Asian Games that year and the duo fought all the way to the semi-finals to clinch the bronze medal for India.

He made up for it in 2018 though. Paired up with the lanky Rohan Bopanna, Divij Sharan persevered all the way to the finals in Jakarta where they defeated Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik and Denis Yevseyev 6-3, 6-4 to win the gold medal.

What lies ahead for Divij Sharan

Even though it’s early days in 2020, it has so far been dry for Divij Sharan and Kiwi doubles partner Artem Sitak, with eliminations at the Qatar Open, Auckland Open and Australian Open in January.

Paired up once again with Sitak, Divij Sharan will contest the Tata Maharastra Open next, looking to shine at his home venue and improve on his 53rd place in the ATP doubles rankings with an eye on the 2020 Olympics.

The pair take on French duo Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin in the round of 16 on Tuesday, February 4.

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