It was the doubles final at the newly renovated Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association Stadium on Saturday, 25 February 2023. After a hard-fought battle in the semi-finals against last year’s winner, Arjun Kadhe, and his partner Max Neuchrist, the Indian duo of Anirudh Chandrasekhar and N Vijay Sundar Prashanth looked set to take on the Korean Taipei pair of Yunseong Chung and Yu Hsiou Hsu.  

The first set looked smooth sailing – like the plan was being executed to perfection. Breaking in the very first service game of the set with two excellent net poaches by Chandrasekhar, the Indians were comfortably leading with a double break at 5-1. Minor hiccups in Chandrasekhar’s service game, notably 2 double faults, and one break was negotiated back. It didn’t deter our boys though, who went on to comfortably take the first set 6-3. But a keen eye could observe that the opponents were clawing their way back in.

The second set was evenly poised till a break point emerged for the Indians at 2-2. Unfortunately, it went wanting – the return from Prashanth went long. The opportunity then went the other way in the seventh game and another costly double fault by Chandrasekhar meant Chung-Hsu were serving for the set. What he gave away cheaply with one hand, he wrestled back with the other. Some sharp returning and quick sneaky volleys, and the Indians levelled up the set again. The pendulum kept swinging with every game and each of them had opportunities that went amiss. The second set was clinched by Chung-Hsu in an exciting tiebreaker.

Extreme bravery followed in the champions tiebreak, which is a 10-point tiebreak now played in lieu of the third set in most doubles matches. As we are all too familiar, tiebreakers are heart breakers! One point is all the difference that’s needed to win them. And yesterday that proved to be penultimate point and the point Prashanth would like to forget forever. A terrible overrule from the umpire that evoked a very strong reaction from the crowds in Bangalore and it was all but over. An exciting match nonetheless – absolutely worthy of a final!

Speaking to a crestfallen Prashanth, he said with a wry smile, “You are reminding me (about that point). I am trying to forget it, but I saw it going in. I am 100% confident that it was good. I asked the umpire. I trust my eyes, so I know. Can’t do much. Sometimes it happens. You have to take it on the chin and move on.” Those were sage words even though we saw him lying prostrate in visible anguish after the blunder. He had been a model of poise all through the match, keeping his younger partner pepped and positive throughout. 

Elated about having made the finals, Chandrasekhar admits, “We had a perfect plan going into the match and it clicked right away. We were in the driver’s seat and it should have been that way, but its doubles and momentum can shift in a jiffy. Tiebreakers are more like coin tosses. You try to do the right thing, but pressure and nerves play a big part. 

Even though the tiebreaker and that dreaded point will occupy a large part of the conversation, there were far too many double faults by the Indians – 7 to 3 – and several at crucial times. “I was initially a bit nervous and I wasn’t finding my range. There is a difference when you play in the day and night here in Bangalore. It’s much cooler and the altitude also plays its part. Eventually I was able to cause some damage but yes, wasn’t really happy with that – something to work on.”

It’s a good pairing – one that has received a decent amount of success on the ATP Challenger tour. Their run in Chennai was noteworthy and they are off to Pune now in the hope of making another deep run. They have been playing for the last 1.5 years. A steady partner in doubles is everything. Prashanth agrees, “That obviously makes a difference. We have decided to play together as a team and train together and I would like to say that the fruits our hard work is now showing. Hopefully we can keep pushing and achieve our goals.” Their age gap is significant – Prashanth is 36 years old and Chandrasekhar is 24. Living in London, Prashanth cracks a small joke about needing to be as youthful as his partner. “It was tongue in cheek, but yes a little bit more is needed. I need to catch up to him. He is little bit more explosive than me. I used to be a lot fitter than I am right now, so I am trying to get to that level – how I was before the lockdown and 2018. The younger Chandrasekhar says, “He brings in a lot of experience. It’s a very good combination. I am happy that we are together.”

For someone so young, I ask Chandrasekhar why he has given up the singles option so early. “I always had a higher doubles ranking going into the pro-circuit. I believed that I had what it takes to be in the highest level, so that why at the end of 2021, I made the decision to give it my all and see where it takes me. I have a dream to play the slams and the Olympics, so this is definitely a pathway for that. I am getting close. US Open is still a target for me. I need to be (ranked in the) 60s and I am hopeful that I will make it.”

Both of them now inducted into the Doubles Dream of India programme spearheaded by Rohan Bopanna and funded and managed by the Pune Metropolitan District Tennis Association. “This week I cracked the top 200, so officially I am part of the Doubles Dream of India. I have been focusing only on doubles.” Chandrasekhar adds, “The initiative is more of a performance enhancement one. You have a coach and a physio travelling with you and I am glad that something like this has come up. I would like to thank Mr Kishor Patil, CEO of KPIT Technologies and the President of the PMDTA, who is helping us all. We have physios to take care of our bodies and they know to keep us fit and free from niggles. Balu Sir is also here with us. He is so experienced and has seen a lot of tennis. I am also glad that that programme has started and its onwards and upwards from here.”

Vijay Sundar Prashanth (left) and Anirudh Chandrasekar (right)

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