Growing up in India and choosing to play tennis professionally isn’t the most obvious career choice. Let alone the ginormous shoes you have to fill or compete against – Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi that precede your career path.
For Divij Sharan from New Delhi, it has neither been obvious or easy but as on 9th July 2018, the 32-year-old will take the court at Wimbledon as India’s best hope at tennis’ most prestigious grand slam. So, why have we not heard more about Sharan or simply know more about Sharan yet? Here’s a closer look at Sharan who faces Jonathan Erlich of Israel and Marcin Matkowski of Poland with his Kiwi partner Artem Sitak in the Round-of-16 at Wimbledon 2018 –
At the age of 18 in 2004, Divij turned professional. While the Singles circuit was difficult to break into, Dibij began developing into a doubles specialist. In 2007, the Delhi-boy won his first Futures Doubles title at the age of 21 in 2007. In 2010 at the Kyoto Challenge in Japan, Divij reached his first ATP Challenger Finals and his stock grew steadily from then. A 1st doubles ATP Challenger title was around the corner for Divij at the Ningbo Challenger, China in September 2011. His steady progress continued and in 2012, Divij impressed with 8 ATP Challenger finals and 2 titles. The coveted Davis Cup call arrived soon as he made his debut against New Zealand in September that year breaking into the top 100 ranked doubles players on the ATP tour.
The Grind of the ATP tour
While Divij continued his good form at Challenger events in 2013 reaching 5 finals to add to another ATP Challenger title at the Kyoto Challenger, Japan, he won his 1st ATP World Title with Purav Raja in Bogota, Colombia in the Claro Open of 2013. Grand Slam success proved to be tough to come by as Divij qualified for Wimbledon 2013 but suffered a first-round defeat. Divij changed doubles partners for the US Open 2013 and with Lu Yen-Hsun from Chinese Taipei, he reached 3rd round at the Flushing Meadows. His progress didn’t go unnoticed as he rose to 71 in the doubles ranking by the end of 2013. Divij carried his steady progression into 2014 with 2 Challenger Titles at Kyoto and Shanghai before winning the bronze medal for India at the Asian Games, 2014 with Yuki Bhambri. Constant changes of partners hampered Divij in 2015 where he slipped out of the top-100 in the ATP rankings despite winning the Guzzini Challenger and Izmir Challenger.
The setback was only temporary as Divij came back stronger in 2016 reaching 6 Challenger finals winning 4 of them at Manchester Trophy Challenger, Aegon Surbiton Trophy, Open Castilla y León and Pune Challenger. His success meant he broke back into the top-100 and finished the year ranked 63. Divij wasted no time in 2017 and soon broke into the top-50 with a 3rd ATP World Tour final at 2017 Chennai Open. A 4th World Tour final followed immediately where he won his 3rd ATP title at the European Open in Belgium. On the back of this success, Divij broke into the top-50 before December 2017.
On court 17 at Wimbledon 2018, Divij will be India’s only flag bearer into the final week of the Grand Slam. While Indian tennis fans have been spoilt by the likes of Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna down the years; Divij Sharan is one underdog we should all be rooting for in the absence of the aforementioned icons. Victory or defeat, Divij Sharan has kept the Indian flag flying with grit and fight at Wimbledon 2018.