In the eight tournaments since Divij Sharan parted ways with his regular doubles partner Purav Raja, he has played seven different partners on the ATP tour.
But he has not let the uncertainty and constant adapting affect his game much, reaching the semi-finals of three, finals of two and winning one title in the month and a half since the US Open.
His triumph at the European Open in Antwerp with Scott Lipsky was the best of his season yet, as the unseeded Indo-American pair stormed through the field to lift their first ATP World Tour trophy together. They beat Mexico’s Santiago Gonzalez and Julio Peralta of Chile, the pair that had earlier taken out the top seeded Bryan Brothers, 6-4, 2-6, 10-5 in the final.
“This is what you work for,” Sharan told The Field from Brest, France where he is playing his tournament. “To get such results in the big tournaments and this win means a lot to me.”
It was a gritty performance from the duo as they raised the level of their game together, winning all four matches in the third-set tie-break. En route, they overcame third seeds Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram, and second seeds Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively.
“All the matches Scott and I played in Antwerp were close. We were really solid in the match tie-breaks, which probably made the difference,” he said of their game-plan in their title-winning run.
Since the start of September, the 31-year-old has been playing what seems like a round of musical chairs with doubles partners. Ending what has been a fruitful partnership, Sharan and Purav Raja split in the lead-up to the US Open after their ranking failed to get them a direct entry into the last Major of the year.
Together they had finished as runner-up at the Chennai Open earlier in the year – which was his best performance of the year before Belgium – but after a semi-final run at Los Cabos, Mexico, where they were the defending champions, they parted ways.
While Raja went on to forge a steady partnership with another Indian doubles specialist Leander Paes, Sharan didn’t get the same stability.
After playing with the then world No 66 Andre Begemann at the US Open and losing to Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez in the first round, he made it to the semis at the Istanbul Challenger with fellow Indian Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan. He partnered Neal Skupski at the Moselle Open, where they lost in the first round. But then began an upsurge in his fortunes. He reached the Chengdu Open semi-final with Lu Yen-hsun, and followed it up with a semi-final run at Kaohsiung with Lipsky.
He then made it the final of the Tashkent Challenger with Yuki Bhambri, before finally getting his hands on the trophy in Antwerp.
Adapting to so many different partners and styles may not be easy for the left-handed player but he prefers to look at bright side of things, saying that this constant change has actually made him a better player.
“Yes, the uncertainty over partners over the last few months has been there but I’ve enjoyed playing with all of them. I’ve tried to focus on myself and work on my game and I’m grateful for my recent results as they would only motivate me to work harder,” the 31-year-old said.
“Every player is different as they have their own strengths and game styles. I’ve enjoyed playing with different partners, bringing my own strengths to the team and learning from the experience,” he added.
The path ahead
The European Open win means a lot more than just a trophy and his best tournament of the year. It has also elevated him 15 places up the ATP rankings to a career-high ranking of 51, which gives him a much better shot at tournaments next year.
“Yes, my improved ranking means that it would be a lot easier for me to get into the bigger tournaments to start the next year,” Sharan agreed.
Overall, 2017 has been memorable season for the Indian with a final at his home tournament in Chennai, an unprecedented pre-quarterfinal run at French Open and first-ever win at Wimbledon, and now only his third ATP World Tour Trophy.
But while his partnership with Lipsky has ended for the year – the American has ended his season – the 31-year-old plants to continue on the Challenger circuit. He is currently partnering Scott Clayton at the Brest Challenger in France.
“I think it’s been a good year,” he said. “Obviously started the year with making finals in Chennai, won my first clay court challenger in Bordeaux, played the third round at French Open and second round at Wimbledon and now I’ve won the European Open in Antwerp.”
What next after a season like that? Sharan’s focus is clear – climb higher on the ATP doubles ladder. “The next goal is to get my ranking inside 30 so I can play the ATP 1,000s,” he said.
With a strong end to this season and a potential partnership with Lipsky, this goal doesn’t seem very ambitious for the Delhi-based player.