Prajnesh, Ramkumar eye strong start to new season at big home event


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. (PTI)

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