It’s been a tough year for Saketh Myneni on tour, having been unable to play a full schedule due to persisting niggles and injuries. He talks to us about how he has learnt to be patient with his body, why singles is his priority for 2020, his partnership with Arjun Kadhe, mentoring young Indian players, and much more –

Saketh during the ATP Pune Challenger (Photo Credits – Jacob Nedumchira)

Q) You’ve had an on and off year and singles and missed a month on the circuit here and there. Do you think injuries and niggles were a major concern this season?

That’s been the case for some years with me now. I want to get back to being completely healthy and play, I’ve been working with my physio on that. Also, with respect to my game, I’ve been trying to be more physical and doing that takes a little bit of time. That’s something that I’ve accepted. We’ll have to be patient about that fact and work on it. These changes aren’t changes which happen very quickly. Overall I’m okay with my progress, but I’ve still got a lot of improvements to make and a lot of things I need to change.

Q) Are you changing anything specific w.r.t your physical training / team?

Not really, it’s more about rehab work and trying to stay injury free. That takes a little more time. Physical training programs in general are separate from rehab programs. When you do the two together, you have to have a proper plan. I’m still getting better with small things. It takes some time, especially when you’re having issues while playing. I don’t want to hurry things up. 

My game style is not where you’re constantly running for balls point after point. But at the same when you play big events like slams etc., doing that extra bit can fetch better results. It’s a matter of putting it all together. Sometimes it might work sometimes it might not work and it takes time to adjust your game.

Saketh with his physio Yash Pandey

Q) Can you talk more about if you have a different routine when you’re playing tournaments vs in between tournaments?

Usually during tournaments there won’t be much physical training as its important to be fresh for matches. During the match, you push your body to another limit, so it’s important to give your body enough rest before and after the match.  It’s more of a routine where you are tuning your body. Rehabilitation is extremely important during tournaments. You want to focus on being able to recover and be ready for upcoming matches and tournaments as quickly and efficiently as possible.

During off season or in between the tournaments it’s more heavy training to make sure your body is building up muscle, since you’re going to lose a lot of muscle during tournaments.

Q) Since this year you’ve been focusing on both singles and doubles. What’s your plan for the near / foreseeable future? Do you plan to continue to focus mainly on singles or both?

I’ve been doing similar things for the last few years. I play doubles along with singles in most of the tournaments I play. There’s no real change in that plan. It also depends on how things work out. I’m still focussing on singles as of now.

Saketh(right) won the Men’s Doubles Gold partnering Vishnu Vardhan at the South Asian Games in Kathmandu, Nepal recently

Q) Do you think doubles helps your singles game and vice-versa?

It does help both ways. Playing doubles definitely helps ones’ singles game. For example when you come in, in singles, volleying skills fine tuned in doubles come in handy. In doubles your returns have to be more accurate. It all depends on how you look at it and how you’re training yourself. It works both ways. You’ve got to enjoy it and love the challenge.

Q) How do you think doubles game has changed over the years. We know singles has become a lot about grinding nowadays compared to 15 years back. Do you think doubles has gotten tougher, do you think top singles players are making more of a comeback into doubles? Eg Shapovalov?

I don’t think so. It’s a tough game. Especially with singles being so physical, a lot of guys don’t want to play both, as it takes a toll your body. The view is a bit different from before, let’s say compared to the serve and volley era. The baseline game takes a lot of toll on the body, so if you want to win slams you’ve got to take care of your body.  

Singles gets more TV time as well. Doubles isn’t viewed as importantly as it used to be for the singles players. The proportion of the top players playing doubles has decreased compared to say 20 years ago. 

Q) You’ve been partnering Arjun quite a bit. How do you think your games match up?

I’ve played with him in a couple of tournaments so far. I’ve played with a lot of Indians. I’ve always loved playing with Indians since we also travel together and we are all friends. He has a bit of a different style of play which also helps my game. I of course try and support him during matches. When you play together, you constantly need to learn from each other and also complement each other’s game in order to get the wins.

Saketh and Arjun were runners up at the ATP Pune Challenger

Q) Within the Indian circuit you’re seen as a good mentor. You talk to Mukund, Arjun etc quite a lot. What do you think of these kids coming up. What do you think they need to get better?

I don’t think I’m a mentor per se. I’m more like a friend and I’ve always been that way. If someone asks me questions, I try to help to the best of my abilities. When we grew up we didn’t have a lot of support. Now with technology it’s much easier to communicate. It’s great to see all these guys doing well on the circuit and moving their rankings up. I think 10 years ago we didn’t have so many players competing and pushing each other. Now we do. Seeing each other doing well, playing in slams, qualifying for important tournaments, putting singles as a priority etc. We have a few guys in the top 300, few in the top 400. At one point we only had 2-3 top 500 players.

Q) You’ve been close with Yuki, exchanging notes once in awhile, helped each other while playing the same slams. Now Sumit is the one who is young and coming up. He won a set against Federer. What do you think are the next steps he needs to take to go to the next level, get into the top 50?

It’s unfortunate that Yuki is injured. I’m good friends with him and Sumit as well. Anytime we play the same tournaments we help each other to get better. Sumit has had a wonderful season, He’s done very well on clay. Not many Indians have done well on clay in the past. He’s got a great team around him. It’s great to see the work they’ve done with him. It’d be good to see him break into the top 100 and stay consistent. That’s the important part. Going there is one part staying there is the other.

Prajnesh has done a fantastic job in the past year and a half. Now staying there is the goal for him as well. Make sure you’re not getting injured for the whole season, that’ll be a big goal for them and make sure they keep improving, That’s something all tennis players have to do. All of us want to make sure we’re getting better and also improving our ranking.

Q) What do you see as the future for Indian tennis 10 years down the line?

There’s a lot of things which need to be improved. It’s not just one thing, We need a proper system first. Proper infrastructure, where we’re marching up to world standards. That’ll be something which will be great for the next generation. Players should be able to train abroad a little bit and then come back home and have the facilities to train. It’s tough to find proper clay courts in India. These things are barriers we’re going to have. Hopefully we change into a sporting Nation a lot of people talk about. But it’s still lacking in terms of words but not reality. Support is also needed, especially for juniors while coming up. That’ll help them get results, not staying away from the sport just because of funding issues. This applies to any sport not just tennis. There’s been a big change since the past 20 years when I started. Its till very slow and needs to be faster. Tennis needs to be more accessible for people of all ages and levels.

We also have this system of winning and then getting support. We should have support before winning. We shouldn’t be taking players’ sides only when they win. Sports need to be made viable career option, irrespective of your social and economic background.

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