Related News Australian Open introduces final set tiebreak WTA to offer increased rankings protection for returning mothers: Report Prajnesh Gunneswaran fights his way into final of Pune Challenger Presenting the home challenge, Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Ramkumar Ramanathan would need to give their all in tackling a superior field at Tata Open Maharashtra, where Wimbledon finalist […]
A gritty Prajnesh would be keen to pick up from where he left off at his breakthrough 2018 season. (File)
Presenting the home challenge, Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Ramkumar Ramanathan would need to give their all in tackling a superior field at Tata Open Maharashtra, where Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson will be a firm title-favourite. A gritty Prajnesh would be keen to pick up from where he left off at his breakthrough 2018 season while Ramkumar will eye a strong start to a fresh season after getting a taste of what it takes to reach final of an ATP World Tour event.
In the 23-year long history of this ATP 250 tournament in India — across two cities — a home grown player has never captured the singles trophy till date with Somdev Devvarman’s runner-up show in the 2009 Chennai edition being the best. It is an unrealistic expectation from Prajnesh and Ramkumar to re-write history but the two players have shown enough talent and fighting ability to pose a serious challenge to top players.
It is the consistency in putting that fight day in and day out in the unforgiving sport — that tests you from head to toe — which is a major difference. His strong serve, aggression and free-flowing inside-out forehand, coupled with a stable head has transformed Prajnesh into a tough customer.
His two Challengers title wins out of four finals in 2018 and the resultant jump to world rank of 107, has given good enough reason to remain optimistic. But he needs to perform consistently at the Tour level, where the scope for mistake is minimal.
“I worked on some specific stuff to be more aggressive and trying to come on the net more. During the off-season, I also worked on my return game and add (power) to my serve. Hopefully I can transfer it to match,” Prajnesh told PTI. The 29-year-old southpaw will open his campaign against American world number 103 Michael Mmoh while Ramkumar faces world number 97 Marcel Granollers from Spain.
Ramkumar enjoyed the runner-up finish at the ATP Hall of Fame Open in Newport but could never repeat the success after that feat. That is exactly where the problem lies. City boy Arjun Kadhe is the third wild card entrant and he is up against Serbain Laslo Djere, the world number 94.
The pulling out of Croatia’s Marin Cilic has denied the tournament a top-10 player in action but country’s biggest ATP event still has three top-30 players, led by world number six and top seed Anderson. The gangly South African had ended a runner-up in the inaugural edition in Pune and is not likely to face much resistance before the semifinals where he is likely to run into the defending champion Gilles Simon.
Young Hyon Chung, the first South Korean to reach the Grand Slam semifinals, will be a major attraction in the bottom half of the draw.
The 25-year-old bespectacled player had created ripples by knocking out Novak Djokovic from the Australian Open in the quarterfinals even as the Serb was just returning from an injury.
It was not exactly a fairytale end to his Australian Open campaign as he withdrew from the semifinal against Roger Federer due to foot blisters but he did savour a breakthrough season with wins over top-10 players. Chung’s success – he is top-25 in the world – is stuff of inspiration for the Asian players, who have not been as successful on tennis courts as the Europeans.
Another player to watch out for is fifth seed Frenchman Benoit Paire, who though did not have a great 2018 season despite a strong start. He had made semifinals here and at the following Sydney International but struggled to go beyond second round after that. The Frenchman will look to use the good memories here to find his mojo back.
All the top players including Anderson, Chung, Simon, fourth seed Malek Jaziri and fifth seed Paire have been given first round byes.
In the doubles, the first-time partnership between Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan will face its first test. The combination has been arrived at with 2020 Tokyo Olympics in mind and will be keenly watched.
Veteran Leander Paes is also featuring in the doubles with Mexico’s Miguel Angel Reyes-Varela. Another exciting Indian player is Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, who has paired with American Nicholas Monroe. Ramkumar and Purav Raja have been wild card along with Kadhe and N Sriram Balaji.