India No. 4 Mukund Sasikumar has had a strong start to the year, notching up a couple of impressive wins on the ATP Challenger circuit. As a reward, he has been handed a main draw wildcard to India’s only ATP event, the Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune. In the first round, he goes up against Japan’s 102 ranked Taro Daniel in Round 1. Mukund speaks to us to share his thoughts ahead of his ATP World Tour debut –

All photos by Ranjith Kumar

Q) How does it feel to finally be making your ATP World Tour debut?

It’s definitely a milestone. After 23 years, to really play the real tournament(ATP main draw) just means you are there, nothing’s bigger than that. To finally look back at all these years & to see myself now at the big stage, it really feels very good and I am just very thankful that life has been very kind on me.

Q) You’ve had a really positive start to the season, some solid matches in the bag. How do you view the season so far?

For me, it’s very mixed because it was never a problem to play tennis on one or two days. I was quite disappointed that I couldn’t carry on with that run in the tournaments and I kind of slugged down on the second/third day in both the tournaments. But of course, the fact is that I have beaten 2 Top 100 & 1 Top 200 player quite convincingly. So definitely that’s a good positive if you look at it that way, but in the future I would like to keep that level for more days and that would be the target.

Q) Thoughts on your first round against Taro Daniel?

I know him from my teenage years, maybe 12-13 when he was in Spain. so I really know how he plays and am very excited to play him. To play someone like him on my debut, I cannot really ask for something more. I am just going to enjoy every bit of it.

Q) You had a solid win over Lorenzi a couple of weeks back. Played a very tight match against James Duckworth here during the Challenger last year. Both of them are in the main draw here, and there are loads of players ranked around them in this event. Does that fill you in with extra confidence and positivity?

I believe that I belong to around the top 100 level now maybe. I might not be there, but definitely if I play really well, I am sure I can have an equal match against anyone at that level. Tennis is such a sport that what you did last week doesn’t really count. Every week starts from love all & everyday has to be earned.

Q) Has your Austrian coach Mr. Spottl been travelling with you? Is he here? What’s the plan going forward, vis-a-vis having a travelling coach alongside?

He was travelling with me all of last year as well. He is here and is going to be in Bengaluru as well. I am very happy to have someone like him all the time with me.

Mukund with his Austrian coach, Martin Spottl

Q) You were perilously close to making your Grand Slam qualifying debut last year. Are you working towards making French Open a reality this year? Thoughts on that.

I think I am over that stage right now, the fascination. I have grown over it. What is going to change, playing one qualifier less is not going to change anything. The goal is to go deep in the main draw, so I am working towards that now. If I am beating guys like Duckhee Lee & Lorenzi or whoever, it just shows that I have the level. So time will tell me when I make my debut in a Slam and it will happen when it has to happen.

Q) Lastly, what are your goals for this season? Where do you want to be at the end of 2020?

It’s very tough to say, I don’t really know. The season has just started. Definitely, my personal goal would be top 100, which is a dream for any player. I have to see how I react under pressure and how consistent I am throughout the year. Some day, I play top 30 level, while some days I don’t. I have to see how I fare in the first few months, for now I am mentally really healthy & very consistent. But we are in February & we still have ten more months. So let’s see if I really can keep it up & if I do everything right, I don’t see making the top 100 a challenge. Time will tell!

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