“It’s about how motivated I am to do what it takes” – India No. 1 Mukund Sasikumar after a promising performance at the Tata Open Maharashtra

India No.1 Mukund Sasikumar put up a spirited fight against WR #171 Flavio Cobolli. He was up a break in both sets before the Italian crawled his way back into the match with some breathtaking tennis. Mukund lost 4-6 5-7.

Mukund talks about his experience of playing on the big stage, things he needs to work on, and much more –

Q) Good match you would say?

MS – Yeah. It’s never easy. Those matches take a lot of energy out of you. So your body feels much more drained so that was the case. But overall, I am happy, competed well. I had my chances of course. But to see where I was one year ago, it is a big boost of confidence for me. I just need to keep working hard. But finally I feel my life is back on track, on and off the tennis court. That is the biggest plus more than how the match went.

Q) You were up a break in both sets but lost both. Can you talk about that?

MS – In these kinds of matches, it’s more about how you handle your emotions and feelings. It’s not about the tennis. The tennis we can talk once I play more matches at this level. He’s a great player, but it had lot more to do with myself than what it had to do with his game.

I never had the feeling I could pull off a win even when I was a break up. Because with players at this level, it’s not over with just one break of serve. They are going to keep coming back. It’s not over until you hold all your service games through the set and through the match. It’s a long way to go from 3-1 up. He kept raising his level. I will look to work physically better so that I can keep it up against this player.

Q) How did it feel playing in a big stadium?

MS – It’s a lack of experience. It’s not an excuse. But if you look at a Sumit (Nagal) or a Ram (Ramkumar Ramanathan), it’s a fact that they have played in such stadiums much more than I have. I don’t know how many ATP’s Ram has played, starting from his first match against Somdev (Devvarman) at the Chennai Open until now. It’s almost a decade of him competing at this level.

Even Sumit, he’s played against the greatest players of all time in a much bigger stadium than this. In Juniors, he has played in big stages as well. So they both know what this is about much more than I do. When was the last time I played in such a big stadium. So I am not even thinking what I felt was avoidable. It’s bound to be there. It’s human emotions. It happened when I played my first Futures or first Challenger, it happened today, and I know it will happen when I play my first Grand Slam match as well.

Q) But you played at the Stadium court here once before….

MS – Yes, once but that was 4 years back. Before Corona. It’s before corona and after corona, BC and AC. This sport is about doing the job week in and week out. That was once in my life. That doesn’t really help in this circumstance. But if you look at the other Indian guys, they have seen much more Tennis than me and have been much better players than me in the past.

If you take Praj, Ram, Sumit, or Yuki, they’ve all been Top 100 or close to Top 100 in the past. I am not saying I could have been there had the pandemic not happened. But on paper, it’s not like this. Again, I would like to go on record and say it’s not an excuse, but it’s facts.

Q) Is it just the physical part that’s stopping you from winning such matches? Or is it mental as well?

MS – Mentality has a lot to do with physicality as well. When your body starts to give in is when your mind starts to give in as well. That’s what I believe in. When I say physicality, I mean physicality at the ATP Tour level. It does not mean that I am not fit enough to compete at the professional level. Physicality counts much more when there’s a lot of pressure. But yes, the fitness part is stopping me from playing at the highest level.

You can work with the best fitness trainer in the world, but your legs won’t magically get better the next day. It takes time to show results. That is the maximum I can do. Only work can sort it out. And I am doing that. The body takes its own time. At the same time, I would not like to push it too much because I would not like to get injured. I have a fitness trainer in Florida named Chris Emkey who’s helping me. I have improved a lot in the last few months already. It’s all about me and how motivated I am to do what it takes. I am hopeful that things will fall into place.

Vatsal is a tennis player and fanatic. Currently learning French

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