Somdev Devvarman (three medals: singles gold, doubles gold and team bronze)
2010 Asian Games, Guangzhou: India's first tennis singles gold
When I think as far back to the Asian Games as I can, I think I'd say I really enjoyed watching some of the hockey matches. It's a sport that we've traditionally had success in and was fun to follow. Of course, the other major highlight was the 2002 mixed doubles medal which Sania (Mirza) won along with Leander (Paes). I remember it because Sania, who's been a very good friend, told me all about the experience later on when we played in the juniors about how she'd won the medal with Lee and how crazy it was. It amped me up and I wondered if I'd ever play at the Asian Games. Also, two of my very good friends Vishal Uppal and Mustafa Ghouse won a doubles bronze medal together in 2002 and it was probably the first time I knew people who'd won a medal. So I could hang out and practice with them, which was pretty cool.
The match against (Denis) Istomin was probably one of the best in my tennis career. Definitely, one of the best matches I've ever played for India. It ranks high up there because no Indian had won a tennis singles gold until then nor has anyone since. Going in, I think he was top seed and I was seeded second but he was ranked a lot higher, probably No 44. I played the match with my life, didn't miss too many balls and barely made any unforced errors. I played a perfect match. Honestly, I think it was the icing on the cake because the previous day I'd won the doubles gold medal along with my best friend Sanam Singh, so I already had a massive high, then had to come down and get ready for this match.
Looking back, 2010 was a great year for me - I broke into the top 100 for the first time, won a Commonwealth Games gold and had some good Davis Cup performances, which included the play-off tie we won from 2-0 down against Brazil in September. I made it inside the top 100 in August that year so my coaches were fired up since it was a goal we were all working towards for a very long time. I sat down with my coaches and we agreed that I couldn't afford to miss the Commonwealth Games since it was happening in India but honestly the Asian Games was a little bit of a last-minute decision which we took once we knew that I couldn't move back into the top 100 at the end of the season. In a sense, it was disappointing for me because even after I'd won all those medals, I had so many national commitments that it was tough for me to find time to work my way back into the top 100.
On the bright side, what we really gained out of it was pride and great performances for the country which are unforgettable. It was incredibly tough to balance ranking ambitions with national commitments then, but in hindsight I'm really happy I made those choices.
Asian Games was in November that year and so when we got to Guangzhou it was towards the end of the season. I was honestly a little tired and didn't know what to expect and I knew this was my last tournament of the year. In a sense, even if you're going in tired but you know the end is near, you somehow find your second wind. That's exactly what happened with me. I was ready for all the matches but more than anything I really enjoyed playing multi-disciplinary events, the excitement of staying together in these huge buildings as a team in the Games Village, meeting other athletes and wishing each other luck was fun.
The entire Asian Games experience was a very special one. We put up a decent effort and came very close to a silver and even potentially gold in the team event but still came off with a bronze. In doubles, Sanam and I were the underdogs the entire way and I don't think we were even seeded but we came out and won.
At the end of everything, the two of us and the rest of the Indian guys, including Karan Rastogi, who was one of my closest friends from the time I was a junior, and another friend Treat Huey, who was my college mate and coach, had a very good time together. We definitely had more than a couple of beers that night.
(As told to Susan Ninan)