By Ravishankar Krishnan – 16th November, 2018
To have two Indians competing in the singles final of an ATP Challenger event is rare, a $150K(+H) one at that. What makes it even more special is the fact that our top two singles players, Yuki Bhambri and Ramkumar Ramanathan, weren’t even taking part in the event.
On a day with perhaps the best turnout at the Bengaluru Open 2018, the fans were treated to arguably the best match of the tournament so far, as India’s Saketh Myneni defeated Kazakhstan’s Aleksandr Nedovyesov. But the match itself wasn’t without its ebbs and flows. Nedovyesov seemed to be heading to an easy win after leading Saketh 6-4, 3-1 at one point, before Saketh staged a comeback to win the match 4-6 6-4 6-4.
Prajnesh, on the other hand, played a flawless match to oust Canadian power hitter Brayden Schnur for the loss of five games, winning 6-4 6-1, using his big groundstrokes, especially his forehand, to dictate play. With this win, he overtook Yuki Bhambri, who’s ended his season early to recuperate from injury, to become the new India No.1.
“I am happy to be in the final. I think today was the best that I have played this week, and am delighted to know that I am no.1. I have been waiting for a while to reach this spot. Although it has still not sunk in, I feel very happy”, said Prajnesh.
The first set in Saketh’s match saw only a sole break, with Nedovyesov breaking Saketh’s serve in the 5th game of the match, to go up 3-2. Nedovyesov comfortably held his serve at 5-4 to win the first set. Saketh was once again broken early in the second set, at 1-1 and was down 1-3 after Nedovyesov comfortably held his own serve. Up to this point, Nedovyesov looked like the better player, and his groundstrokes, especially his backhands, were at their punishing best .
It looked like Nedovyesov would walk away with the match, but Saketh had other ideas. Saketh upped his own game to break back and brought parity to the scoreline in the second set by making it 3-3. Saketh broke serve for the second time in the set, at 4-5, to win the set. This period probably saw the highest quality of tennis, with both players showcasing great groundstrokes, but it was Saketh’s scorching forehands that made the difference in the end.
The third set saw a drop in Nedovyesov’s game, and saw him committing several unforced errors. Saketh capitalised on this and breezed to a 5-0 lead and what seemed like a comfortable victory. Win he did, but not without some nerve-racking moments. Serving at 5-1 for the match, Saketh chose to play some safe tennis instead of going for the kill and Nedovyesov took advantage of this to break Saketh. Nedovyesov held his own serve to make it 3-5 and make a mini comeback of sorts. Saketh at 5-3 once again had an opportunity to serve out the match and was leading 40-15 with two match points in hand. A questionable line call meant what could have been a second serve ace to win the match, was instead a double fault. With perhaps the line call still bothering him, Saketh served another double fault to squander 2 match point opportunities and lost his serve again. At 4-5, the set was back on serve and the match was seemingly slipping away from Saketh. However, Saketh won 3 points in a row from 30-0 on Nedovyesov’s serve to give him another match point. This time Saketh did not squander his opportunity and won the match courtesy a backhand unforced error by Nedovyesov, to set up a tantalizing all Indian summit clash with Prajnesh on Saturday.
“I lost my concentration for a brief while. These kind of mistakes should not happen but then I am happy that all went well for me,” said Saketh, when asked about how his opponent came back in the 3rd set.
(WC)Saketh Myneni (IND) bt Aleksandr Nedovyesov (KAZ) 4-6, 6-4, 6-4
(4)Prajnesh Gunneswaran (IND) bt Brayden Schnur (CAN) 6-4, 6-1
Max Purcell (AUS) / Luke Seville (AUS) bt (2) Purav Raja (IND) / Antonio Sancic (CRO) 7-6 (3), 6-3
Final line-up –
(WC) Saketh Myneni (IND) Vs. (4) Prajnesh Gunneswaran (IND) 6 p.m.