India’s top singles players, led by number one Saketh Myneni, would look to better their record at big events when they brush shoulders with some of the best in the business, including world number six Marin Cilic, at the ATP Chennai Open tennis tournament, beginning on Monday.
Despite not having three-time winner Stanislas Wawrinka, it’s a rich field which will feature six top-50 players in the singles draw, including Cilic, who had a great 2016, his country-mate and last year’s finalist Borna Coric, Spaniards Roberta Bautista Agut and Albert Ramos-Vinolas. The onus is on the Indians to make their presence felt.
It has been a while that both Myneni and local boy Ramkumar Ramanathan have been striving to make an impression on the Tour but mostly they have competed at the Challenger level.
Both have been given wild card entries into the main draw and they need to make it count. This is the only ATP 250 event that India has and the country has already lost many Challengers last year.
29-year-old Myneni did make progress last year when he qualified for the US Open but he needs to find a way to manage his fitness and consistently play at the ATP 250 level.
It’s easier said than done but athletes who have insatiable hunger for success do reach there and fight hard to stay there.
Myneni is pitted against seasoned Russian Mikhail Youzhny, world number 57, and the Indian needs to be at his best to get past him.
Ramkumar has shown promise from his early days and has enjoyed a few memorable wins but lacks consistency. He has the serve and ground strokes but needs to compliment his game with mental strength and strong legs. The Chennai boy does not know his opponent as yet as he is drawn to meet a qualifier in his opening round.
Yuki Bhambri endured a tough 2015 season, missing six months due to tennis elbow injury and eventually dropped out of top-100. He is languishing now in 500s and would hope that he remains injury free in 2017. He is one win away from making the main draw of Chennai Open after winning his first round on Saturday as a wild card.
And so is Prajnesh Gunneswaran who is also trying to redeem his career of which he lost five crucial years due to stress fractures in his knees. He sort of announced his comeback when he made the final of Pune Challenger in October, ending a surprise runner-up. He is also one win away from qualifying for the singles main draw. If both of them win, India will have four players in the singles event.