The next time you run into Saketh Myneni, you are likely to miss the fact that he is an Arjuna Awardee. Such is the nature of the man. Behind the towering 6’4 presence, lies a man with a golden heart, likely to strike up a conversation with anyone.
Coming to his on-court exploits, he’s been ranked as high as 137 in the ATP Singles Rankings. He won two medals at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, Korea – a Mixed Doubles Gold partnering Sania Mirza, and a Men’s Doubles Silver partnering Sanam Singh. He has 2 ATP Challenger titles to his name and qualified for his Grand Slam at the US Open last year, losing in 5 sets to Top 40 player Jiri Vesely.
Indian Tennis Daily got a chance to catch up with him at the back of the ATP Bengaluru Challenger while he was nursing a shoulder niggle.
Saketh, with his Asian Games Gold Medal
Here are the excerpts :
Q) When did you start playing tennis? What got you interested?
I started playing when I was 11. At first, it was more like a physical activity. But I am a hardcore outdoor sports person. I can even play Marbles if you want me to. I would play Cricket, Soccer, Basketball. You name it!
Q) Which was the most memorable match of your career and why?
Each year on the Tour is like a different journey in itself. College had a huge influence on my career. But after that, each step in the pro circuit helped me ready myself for the next step. In terms of matches, the Asian Games(Gold in Mixed Doubles and Silver in Men’s Doubles) was big, in terms of winning a medal(s) for the country. Last year US Open was special as I qualified for my first Grand Slam Main Draw. Then my win in the Junior Nationals in 2005 was special as well, as I did not play much junior ITF’s back then.
Q) You went to the University of Alabama to play US Collegiate Tennis. Would you suggest that route to a budding tennis player?
If you have proper funding in place to play the pro circuit, then it’s one way of doing it. College is another way of doing it. We have seen many players do it in the past. Mahesh(Bhupathi), Som(Somdev Devvarman) and myself have taken that route.
So at the end of the day, it comes down to the person’s motivation. It depends on where the player sees himself in the next 4-5 years. They have a different structure there. It’s a team format, so they have to bind as a team. So apart from the tennis, it helped me mature as a person as well. So I will always be indebted to the US College Tennis program for this reason.
Q) Talking about tennis in India, a couple of years back, we had hosted 5 Challengers. And it’s down to 2 this year. How do you think we can ensure that a minimum number of Challengers happen here each year?
It’s tough to do that. At the end of the day, it’s a lot of money. Specially at the Futures and Challengers, these guys don’t make money back. And all these State Associations, hence find it difficult to keep staging tournaments.
Ideally, we would like to have as many Challengers as possible, since we have a lot of guys in the Top 200-500 bracket. Challengers would help them take that big leap. It would help take Indian Tennis forward collectively. It can get your ranking up, then you can play the big events. If a group of players are stuck in the 200-400 range, then the next generation of players won’t have the confidence and the motivation going forward.
Q) You’ve seen how different associations operate. For instance, Tennis Australia sends a common physio to help the players out in tournaments. Do you think the AITA can improve in such aspects?
Definitely they can. There are a lot of things they can do. But tennis is an expensive sport. Taking a physio along can be very costly, but it’s required. To stay injury-free throughout the year, it is very important to have a physio travelling with you. Associations like the USTA and Tennis Australia have qualified physio’s and more importantly, a system in place to help upcoming talent. That is where we are lacking now and need to buck up.
Q) What do you consider as the strengths and weaknesses in your game and why?
I think my strength is that I enjoy the game. I don’t get picky about the results. I am the same – win or lose. Everything else comes after that.
The weakness would be that I am slightly lazy. That is in my nature. But I am still learning. I might be 30 years old, but I am still a newbie in the circuit. It’s been just 4-5 years me on tour. So I haven’t played as much as the other 30 year olds on the circuit.
Q) Since you mentioned that you are not picky about the results, this question might be a bit redundant. But a lot of people want to know about how you dealt with the loss against Vesely at the US Open. It robbed you of a chance to play against Novak Djokovic.
It was a big occasion for me. It was my first Grand Slam main draw match for me. Two weeks before the event, I didn’t even think I would make the main draw. My preparation was very up and down. And then I got injured during the match. So I couldn’t do certain things and was basically playing one-dimensional tennis. So I had to be mentally strong.
The support that I had at the US Open was incredible. I had a “Saki Squad”. In the qualifiers, I was playing a local American guy and I had much more support than him. I think it’s just because of my nature. The feeling was incredible. Wall Street came out and did an article about me. It’s a “Home Away From Home” Grand Slam for me. Talking about the match, I was more than happy to walk to the locker room on my own feet, and not use a stretcher.
Q) You’ve played two five setters and have cramped in both. Do you think fitness is an aspect that you can work on?
Definitely. But I think it’s more genetics than anything else. I mean I work as hard as anyone else out there. It’s just that I sweat unusually. My sweat rate is higher than most people out there. So it causes my body to dehydrate much faster. But it’s nothing to complain about.
Q) You’ve had your share of injuries. So what keeps you motivated to come back and go through the grind again?
Getting to play in the big events is something that keeps me motivated. I keep enjoying game and keep looking at what changes I have made to my game. So it’s just the love for the game, and not rankings that keeps me motivated to keep coming back to the sport after injuries.
Q) Most Indians shift to Doubles after their Singles Careers. Is that the plan for you as well?
I haven’t looked at it in that way. For me, I will continue to play singles as long as my body allows and I am enjoying. Ranking is not going to matter. I’ve never really given it a thought. I need to keep working and getting better.
Rapid Fire Questions
|Dream Mixed Doubles Partner||Sania Mirza, Martina Hingis|
|Things you do when you are free||Listen to music|
|Favorite food||Indian and Italian|
|The song that’s been on loop for you recently||Fast music|
|Cricket or football||Football. I like sports that are fast-paced|
|Celebrity Crush||Jennifer Lawrence|
|Favorite country you’ve been to and why?||Australia|
|A place you haven’t been to but love to visit||South Africa|
|Favorite tournament||US Open|
|Best friend on Tour||Everyone|