“Our Goal is to get to the Grand Slams as soon as possible” – Sriram Balaji after cruising through to the Tata Open Maharashtra 2023 semifinal with Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan

Sriram Balaji and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan put up a dazzling show against second seed Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow in the Tata Open Maharashtra ATP 250 tournament winning in two sets 7-6, 7-6 and moving on to the semifinals. Here is what they had to say in the post-match Press Conference about their experience so far in Pune.

Q: Can you talk about the atmosphere first and then go into the match?

Sriram Balaji: I mean, today’s atmosphere was great. I mean, we were supposed to play on the outside court and suddenly, we got to play inside. And the crowd was incredible. Honestly, it was great, and it was a good show.

Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan: I think all the players served really well. I think, definitely no breaks. There was one very close service game, I think we kept our nerves under pressure at four – five in the second set. It comes down to just one or two points. I think we all know this. I think we handled the situation with composure, both of us as a team. And yeah, I think regardless of the result, today I’m very proud of the team.

Q: Can you talk about your combination since you’ve been playing for a while? Can you talk about your progress development as partnerships?

Sriram Balaji: We’ve been playing since last April. And since then, we’ve been constantly, you know, trying to improve as a team, what can be done? I mean, we both are professional players doing our routines and stuff. And, yeah, we’re looking forward to playing the season also. And our goal is to like, you know, get into the slams as soon as possible.

Q: The next month is against Cash & Patten. They are lefty-right combination like you. So how are you planning to tackle that challenge, and have you played them before?

Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan: No, we’ve never played them before. But obviously, they had a fantastic season on the Challenger tour. I think it just shows how minimal the differences on the ATP tour and the Challenger tour, especially in doubles, because those guys won a bunch of challengers. They are cruising on the ATP tour right now. So, I know what’s going to come down to a few points. Everyone’s playing well. And everyone’s happy with the way the tournament has gone so far. And I’m really hoping that the X factor will be the support that we have playing at home. And, you know, we really appreciate and are grateful for the crowd for coming out today and pushing us to the finish line.

Q: How has your journey been together?

Sriram Balaji: We’ve known each other since I was 12 and he was 14. Since then, we both know each other. It’s fantastic to play with your very close friend. And you know about their plus and minus, and everything works good and right from the families. Both the families know each other. So good. Support from the families side also.

Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan: I think a lot of respect towards, you know, either one of us, I have a lot of respect for Bala, and I know, he has a lot of respect for me. And I think that shows when we play on the court, we trust each other, and we stick together in those crucial moments. And yeah, it’s a very good journey. And I hope our journey is just beginning on the ATP tour.

Q: You guys have obviously had a lot of success before also, but different partners. Then COVID came. Can you talk about that? Going back and coming up again? And then coming back to this partnership?

Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan: Yeah, I think, obviously, COVID changed everyone’s life, one way or the other. I think it just gave a lot of perspective on what is important in life. And I mean, I’m just happy and grateful to be able to play again. I think for me, personally, it was at least one year where I didn’t play a match, I didn’t really compete. And I think, you know, it’s a long journey, but I’m really enjoying being back on tour and especially playing with someone like Balaji who is so professional. I find happiness in that. I feel like we’re working towards something, and that break in the lockdown gave us gave me a lot of perspective, and I’m sure Bala can elaborate on his experience.

Sriram Balaji: Yeah, I mean, it was difficult to move up the ladder with protected ranking, but it’s all over now. So back in the grind and we’re happy we stayed strong during the protected ranking period, and we were pushing ourselves, and just knocking the doors

Q: Balaji, just to follow up, you had a good partnership with Vishnu, and then he opted not to continue on the tour for personal reasons. So, what kind of issues did you have not having him as your partner?

Sriram Balaji: It’s always difficult to change, a long-term partnership. It took me a couple of months to find the right partner and I was mixing up with partners. And it’s always not easy to look for a new partner every week. And you have to gel with them. And then you have to give a couple of weeks and try it out. So that couple of months was really difficult. But yeah, it keeps going.

Q: Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury are top seeds in the tournament. How big is this for India to have such accomplished players in the doubles draw? Have you had the chance to have a hit with them? Now, potentially you could face them in the finals. What are your thoughts on them playing here in Pune?

Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan: Rajeev, and Joe, they had a fantastic year, last year, a lot of respect for what they’ve achieved. I think, this shows the benefit of sticking to one partner, I believe, they’ve done really well. And it wasn’t as easy I’m sure for them as well at the start of that partnership. And they’ve only gotten better and better. And it’s great for the tournament to have a team like them compete here. And I think it’s a very, very exciting match. We’re going to watch later, with Ram, who’s as good as anybody when it comes to doubles, especially in Pune. We have a long way to go. We just take it one day at a time. And I’m happy that such world class players are here in India.

Q: Jeevan, you in particular returned very well today, you had a couple of return winners and several backhand, overhand smashes that you nailed today.

Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan: I’m not able to recollect a lot of return points right now, because I feel like they [N. Lammons & J. Withrow] served extremely well, I don’t think we got to a breakpoint. But I’m happy with the way I’m returning I think it’s I one of the things that I was we were talking about before the match today, was to stay patient on our return games, because they’re a world class serving team. So, many opportunities are not going to come off into play.  So, the only thing we can control is the way we serve. And, you know, just take it one point at a time. We may come close, we may not come close at all sudden return games, but we are also keeping track of what they’re doing through the entire set so that when it comes to the tiebreaker, we have certain instincts that we’re going to take over based on what we’ve seen in the pattern I think we follow through and stay composed in those moments and yeah, I’m happy with us especially because we kept our cool in those moments and of course they are very good team they won a bunch of ATP 250s together as well. Yeah, just happy to still be in the tournament

Q: Jeevan, in your ATP profile it says that your idols are Lleyton Hewitt and Pat Rafter when two contrasting styles of play. So, if you just talk about what you like about them and how do you think that has influenced your game?

Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan: I think when I first started playing tennis, Pat Rafter was my favourite player to watch because I thought he had a lot of style with the ponytail and the way he moved on the court. I love the way he served and volleyed, and he’s very athletic. I started to understand how important fitness is for tennis watching him because I was quite a chubby kid growing up. You can see that translates with the way Lleyton Hewitt plays. Again, very athletic, very, you know, focused on his fitness, not just his tennis, and not the biggest guy. So yeah, I mean, I love tennis, whether it’s somebody serving & volleying or playing from the back, it was nothing to do with their game style, I think it’s more to do with their mindset which I really, really liked and tried to, you know, incorporate whatever I could from both. I had the opportunity to actually play against Lleyton I remember in my first Wimbledon, it was a surreal experience to play against your idol. He knocked us out quickly. But yeah, it was very, very, very, very, very nice to still have an opportunity to play against one of your idols. A lot of respect obviously with the way they carried themselves on the tennis court which I was able to take a lot of inspiration from especially in my childhood.

Q: There is a lot of being said about the recent doubles camp in Dubai. Can you talk about what you picked from there which you got to use in this tournament?

Sriram Balaji: It was actually very good initiative by Kishore Patil sir and Bops & Abhishek and they all got together and made this camp possible. So earlier we were discussing where to have this camp, and then they said that Dubai is very good place to have the camp. And I was there only for one week, went in the later period, where we got to know Jeff Coetzee was there and Balu sir was also there. So, we got to learn a lot of things. And it just small things which make a huge difference.

Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan: Yeah, thanks a lot, of course, to the KPIT foundation for starting that initiative. I think doubles gets overlooked a little bit, because I know it’s not easiest thing right now with our current singles rankings with a with our top Indian players. But, you know, we are searching for an Olympic medal. We are searching for an Asian Games medal. We’re searching for these things. And I don’t think it’s an impossible dream. I think we are early in our doubles careers. And we’re very focused towards giving ourselves a shot for these things. And every little bit of help that we get will help and I think that’s a fantastic initiative, and it’s called the ‘Doubles Dream of India’. And I think it’s, it’s great that we are able to finally get that respect in doubles as well.

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