Indian singles players need better fitness: Anand Amritraj (Comment, Special to IANS)
While doubles always has been a major strength of the Indian tennis, the wait for a homebred talent to make it to the latter stages of the singles event at the Chennai Open is still on.
The last time an Indian reached the last-four stage was in 2009, when Somdev Devvarman also moved into in the final but lost to Marin Cilic. This year three Indians — Saketh Myneni, Ramkumar Ramanathan and Yuki Bhambri — were part of the main draw but none progressed beyond the second round.
Bhambri came through qualifying and beat Ramkumar in the opening round before losing to Benoit Paire, while Saketh lost to former top-10 player and 2008 Chennai Open champion Mikhail Youzhny in the first round.
So, how would former national Davis Cup captain Anand Amritraj assess the performance of the Indian singles players at the Chennai Open?
“Yuki played pretty well beating Ramkumar and had his chances against Paire as well, but couldn’t take them. But Paire is a top-50 player, who has been in the top 20 and proved too good for him,” Amritraj said.
“I felt that Saketh got tired after the first set against Youzhny even though the conditions at Chennai weren’t that humid during the match. Saketh needs to work on getting his fitness levels up as he may be required to play three matches during the Davis Cup tie next month,” Amritraj told IANS.
Regarding Ramkumar’s performance, he felt that the young Chennai player didn’t play his best as he may have got nervous playing a fellow Indian in the first round in front of his home fans.
Former national champion and acclaimed coach Enrico Piperno opined that Saketh was returning after two and a half months due to injury and he played pretty well for a set and half against Youzhny.
“Ramkumar was a little disappointing. I thought he would have progressed more than that,” he said.
He felt that it was an encouraging performance from Yuki, but added that the Delhi lad faces a long road back from a ranking that’s close to 500.
Piperno also felt that Yuki will be India’s best hope in singles if he stayed injury-free and continued to improve.
“If they need to make it to the next level, they need to work on getting rid of some weaknesses in their game. Saketh needs to work on his movement while Yuki needs more fee points on his serve. They also need to get more match practice,” he said.
So how do the local players get to perform better at Indian tennis’ flagship event?
Tamil Nadu Tennis Association (TNTA) Vice President and Chennai Open organising committee Chairman Karti Chidambaram had an interesting take.
“We have given Ramkumar wild cards into the main draw the last three years and there has been criticism that we are making it easy for the players. Maybe he might have come to qualifying next year,” he said.
Asked if hosting more challenger events in India would help the local players, he negatived the suggestion.
“Challengers are a losing proposition. We have enough futures events. For holding a challenger event, we require funding of around $100,000, including prize money and expenses,” the TNTA chief said.
“It would be better to use those resources for India’s top five or six players to provide for their coaching and training needs abroad so that they have access to the best facilities and can hone their game further.”
Amritraj was of the view that a travelling coach and raising their fitness levels would help improve the ranking of the Indian players.
“It has become a very physical game and fitness is one area where we are lagging behind the international players,” he said.
When asked which areas of their game the Indian players need to improve on, the former Davis Cup captain came up with some suggestions.
“Saketh needs to work on his forehand and volleys. His backhand is very good but he can work on his movement and play more serve and volley as his strength is his big serve.”
“As far as Yuki is concerned, he is hitting his ground strokes really well. But his serve is not very powerful yet. If he can get his serve over the 200 (kmph) mark, he would certainly get more free points,” he said.
“Ramkumar needs to play more aggressive and attack the net more often. If they work on these areas, I believe all three players have the potential to reach the top 100.”
If the rise in the rankings for the Indian players materialises in the near future, a better performance in singles too would follow at the ATP showpiece event in Chennai.
That should certainly help attract more spectators to the tournament and inspire more youngsters to take up the game of tennis.
(S. Rajesh is a Chennai-based senior freelance journalist, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)