December was the only real "off-season" tennis players get, and he used that time to prepare hard for the Chennai Open, which he wanted to win very badly. It would mean a lot to him to start off the year on a good note, but more importantly it would unload all the mental pressure of last year.
Vijay's opponent was Miguel Costa, a clay-court 'grinder' who likes to play long, drawn-out points to wear his opponent down. Vijay had the power and shot-making, but Miguel had the relentless defense to negate Vijay's offense. No free points from Miguel, Vijay had to earn them.
The first set was tight, but with a couple of good returns and a few big serves, Vijay wins the tiebreaker 7-6 (7-4). But as the second set wore on, Miguel started to play more aggressive, impose his game more and started to get Vijay into those long, drawn-out rallies.
Halfway through the second set, Nisha made her way into the stands. She had bought a last minute ticket to see the match. She was feeling remorseful for being so insensitive to Vijay. She was all caught up in her joyful feeling of being engaged to a bigshot guy and didn't give enough thought to how she had hurt Vijay. As luck would have it, the guy turned out to be a womanizing gigolo. She was now totally ready to root for Vijay wholeheartedly. Vijay's friends noticed her from the friends' box but gave her the cold shoulder. Nisha would cheer on loudly throughout the match, but at this point it was too late to make any difference! She was way up in the back rows and the enthusiastic Chennai crowd drowned her cheers.
The match was tight all the way, with neither man giving in an inch. At 5-6, Vijay started to suddenly feel fatigued. His stomach was bothering him. He hadn't hydrated himself or ate properly that day, plus he was feeling rather tense. At this point, his Thalassemia began to catch up with him. From this point, he was just going on sheer will! He managed to hold and force a fifth set tiebreaker. This was it, it was make or break time… and both players knew it. The match was almost 4 hours long, and Vijay’s only saving grace was the cool night air.
Vijay was fatigued badly, so he decided to shorten the points and play more aggressively. I’m just gonna go for it, he said to himself. At this point, he was simply trying to survive the match, not really win it. He was a wounded animal fighting back with a racquet and a ball.
The tiebreaker started with Miguel serving the first point.
0-0. Vijay puts a good return in play and after a few penetrating shots, rips a vicious crosscourt forehand.
1-0 Vijay. As Vijay serves a short second serve, Miguel rips a great return followed by a forehand winner down the line.
Then the unthinkable happens! Vijay suddenly feels nauseous, and starts to throw up on the court. As he staggered, he leaned against the backboard, trying hard to gain his balance. He was badly dehydrated and exhausted. As Miguel waits patiently, the crowd gasps nervously. They wanted this win for their hero as badly as he did. Vijay slowly gathers himself, wipes the excess vomit off his face as though it was nothing, and gets ready to serve.
1-1. Vijay serves a better first serve and hits a very aggressive backhand down the line, which throws off Miguel. Miguel gets to the ball, but ends up hitting it long.
The nervous crowd heaves a huge sigh of relief and let out a huge standing ovation! They willed their hero through every point, cheering his name loudly and with immense gusto.
And so the match would go back and forth, both Vijay and Miguel fighting for every point. Between points, Vijay would hobble from one side of the court to the other like an old man. He was only 23, but he was feeling like he was 53. He fed off the crowd’s applause, using their emotions to gather enough fumes to play the next point. He was using them like a crutch, as he was barely able to move on his own.
Each point felt like an entire set, and Vijay was going on pure adrenaline. Miguel, on the other hand, was still fresh and ready to play for hours. Both men wanted this win badly. The guts were spilling on the court, both literally and figuratively!
6-6. Miguel suddenly plays even more aggressively by hitting a big serve of his own, which forces a weak reply from Vijay. Miguel puts away the easy shot for a winner.
Things seemed all but over. One more point and Miguel Costa is the winner.
7-6 Miguel. Vijay throws a changeup serve high to Miguel's backhand. Miguel returns the ball short. Vijay pounces on Miguel's weak return and sneaks into the net behind the shot. Miguel sees this out of the corner of his eye and smartly plays a low backhand slice. Vijay bends really low and picks the volley off (almost off the floor!) crosscourt. Miguel flicks the forehand crosscourt and hits a tremendous passing shot.. but Vijay throws everything in his being to lunge for the ball and glance it off his racquet for a clutch winner to save match point!!
After that miraculous save on match point, Vijay is all but spent. He doesn't look like he has enough strength to stand up, let alone play another point all the way through! A thousand things run through his mind. Should he quit? Should he go for broke? If he doesn't win today, how long before he can win again and lift the emotional bag of bricks off his shoulders?!?!
7-7. Vijay hits a weak first serve that misses badly. He takes his time and then out of nowhere hits a 2nd serve ace, stunning everyone, including himself!! The crowd gives a standing ovation!
8-7 (Match point Vijay). Miguel, still stunned from the previous ace, serves a fault. He gathers himself to serve again, and all of a sudden, in a rare moment of fragility in an otherwise perfect match …serves a double fault!
9-7 (Game-set-match Vijay Rajagopalan). Both the crowd and the players were absolutely stunned! Vijay and Miguel slowly make their way to the net and embrace each other in congratulatory respect.
Vijay is quickly whisked off the court for treatment for medical attention. As each player left the court, the crowd gave each one a separate standing ovation for their tremendous effort. Everyone was physically and emotionally spent!