Going into the ATP Bengaluru Challenger a few weeks, not a lot of people would have heard the name of Abhinav Sanjeev Shanmugam. Two days into the tournament, and people were discussing how to pronounce his surname “Shanmugam”. Good progress, eh? The off-court hype was a result of the flamboyance that this lad from Chennai was showing on the court. After having qualified into the main draw, he took out Germany’s ATP ranked 253 Daniel Masur, making heads turn.

In a chat along the sidelines of the Bengaluru Challenger, Abhinav shares details of his journey into Tennis so far, rise up the ranks, friendship with Manish Sureshkumar and Ramkumar Ramanathan, and how ranking goals deter him from playing his best Tennis. Read away!

Q) Describe your early years in tennis. Where did you grow up?

I started early, when I was probably 4 or 5. I used to play at YMCA in Chennai. In fact I still play there. But I also go to hit with Manish(Sureshkumar) at Anna University. He’s a close friend.

Around 13-14, I knew that I wanted to go pro once I started doing well in the local AITA tournaments that I used to participate in.

Abhinav(front) in the newspapers as a kid (Source – Abhinav Sanjeev Shanmugam)

Q) Speak a little about your childhood coaches

I started off at YMCA, like I said, with Mr. Ilyas Hussain. From then on, it has always been Mr. Udaykumar Reddy, until now. In fact, he was here with me during the Bangalore Challenger as well. 

Q) You’ve trained in Spain for a while. How was that experience?

Yes I was. I’ve been there thrice. I was working with Javier Piles from Javi Piles Tennis Academy in Valencia. He was with David Ferrer for 15 years, until he got to world no.3.

In fact, Mr. Piles had to come to Madurai in early 2016 as well, for a clinic involving a set of players, including Prajnesh(Gunneswaran) and Vijay Sundar Prashanth. That’s when I met him. Then I ended up going to Valencia. And then I went twice, subsequently. 

Abhinav during the Bengaluru Challenger (Credits – Deepthi Indukuri)

Q) You didn’t play much of Juniors. Any particular reason behind that?

In Juniors, I was not that great. I was not winning matches anyway. So my coach suggested me to start playing Men’s. So I started playing AITA events in Chennai, and around Southern India. I felt a lot better as I was playing freely. I wasn’t winning immediately, as I was playing against much better players. But it was a learning phase, as I wasn’t expecting any results. 

Q) You were 509 in the ATP Rankings last year. How was life post that?

509 was when they had changed the rules. I had points from the Chennai Challenger in 2018 where I made round 2. So they included only those players with points from Challenger events and upwards. So I was actually 500 odd from around 700 players that were ranked at the time. 

About my performances, they were never really consistent. I had one week and then 5-6 bad weeks to follow after that.

Abhinav playing a Futures event in Uganda

Q) Describe the match against Masur(ATP 253) that you won in Bangalore

I played well. It was a good match. I was a little nervous, obviously, since he was Top 250. I started with nerves, but it got better as the match went on.  I was serving well and playing aggressive, which helped come through that match.

Highlights from Abhinav’s big win over Daniel Masur

Q) Match against Ramkumar Ramanathan(Abhinav lost 3-6 1-6) in the next round

I could have played better. But the distance between our levels was pretty apparent. I was a little nervous before that match too, which is visible in the first set scoreline. My nerves settled in set 2, but it wasn’t enough.

Q) What are a few areas you think you need to work on to keep moving up the rankings?

There are a lot of areas. Fitness-wise, serves, returns, backhand. I can move much better than what I am right now. There is a long long way to go.

Abhinav (Credits – Deepthi Indukuri)

Q) Do you have any player mentors/coaches who help you out?

Ramkumar is a very close friend of mine. I know him since a long time. He texts me, I text him, since we are at different levels and we are playing different sets of tournaments.

Both of us started at YMCA. So I know him since then. He is not able to watch my matches, but he texts occasionally asking how I am doing. He may or may not follow my scores, but if I am playing someone he knows, he tells me what to do. 

Q) Best friends on tour

Manish is a very close friend. We are from the same place, so we hang out a lot.

Q) Life on the tour – travelling every week. Is it tough?

It’s lonely. We can’t afford to have someone travelling with us week in and week out. Sometimes, we go to places like Tunisia and Egypt. If it’s Asia, it’s fine. But Asian tournaments have tough fields. But it is what it is.

Abhinav with Leander Paes

Q) What are your goals for 2020?

Rankings-wise, I don’t want to put those kinds of expectations on myself. I have done that in the past, and that has not allowed me to play too well. I just want to get better. Like the first match in Bangalore was good. So I would like to aim to keep up the same level and hopefully, get better along the way. 

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