“I just took a chance and see this as a reward for taking a brave decision” – Mukund Sasikumar

Mukund Sasikumar had a stellar qualifying campaign at ATP 250 Newport securing two consecutive victories confirming his spot in the main draw.

We caught up with him after the game for a short interview where he discuss about the idea of skipping the challenger for a ATP 250 and much more.

Q) First of all, congratulations Mukund on your great win today and qualifying for the main rounds tomorrow. Your thoughts on the match #2 that you played here. Especially because it was right after your first win today.

Yeah, it was definitely a tough day, especially I was breakdown last evening when it rained and I really didn’t know what to do. And when I came out today, Ryan Harrison and David Day, my Brandenton family, you know in Florida, they came out. Supported a lot. Try and make me keep things simple. Level wise I think it was not a good match from both of us in both matches. A big part of it is the conditions. It’s not a court that we practice the whole year and it’s very low bouncing and very unpredictable with the bounce also and lot of wind. So it’s not possible to play perfect tennis here. So the the goal was to, you know, accept a lot of mistakes and just try and compete hard to start every point fresh. And I’m glad I did that in the key moments today. There was a lot of ugly mistakes, which normally doesn’t happen on a hard court, hasn’t happened in the last few weeks. But, that’s something that you have to accept. It’s going to happen for both players and and a lot of nerves also because it’s not like both the all the three of us, we are not like regular ATP players. So there’s a lot of nervousness to qualify. And at our ranking, especially so, it was more about who handles the nerves better today and who has more luck today. And I think I was lucky in many situations. I was lucky in many situations this year. But as we know. Like all good things and bad things don’t last forever. So I think today was my day and I’m glad I came through. 

Photo Credits: David Wagstaff

Q) Let’s talk about your match number one, which started yesterday. You were down initially, your first service was broken and then there was the rain interruption. But when you came back today, you came back really strong and had a good 3 setter and eventually won the 1st. Qualifier. If you could talk a little bit about that, please. 

Yeah, it was a lot of mixed emotions. When I went back to the room last night because I was absolutely clueless on how to play on the surface and I hit many bad shots and I wasn’t feeling comfortable at all. So I just tried to come back today and play a little bit more free, open up a little more and try and clear the lines a bit to try and play more to the middle. And just reduce the unforced errors and make him come up with good points, good shots and when I broke in the second set I felt like I was into the match. You know, I was getting more and more comfortable and again, I’m glad that you know I was able to turn it around.  The second match strategy was a bit different. You know, I had to come up with more better things sometimes because he is not. He was much more solid. I feel he wasn’t missing a lot. But so I had to put some pressure. Sometimes whenever I had a chance, I really did that well in the key moments; I came in on the right points and made a few good rallies here and there and made a lot of returns, but the first match was emotionally very tricky. You know, I think to spend the night in the hotel thinking about how it’s going to be. And then finally, just accepting whatever it is and trying and coming and putting up whatever I could that that was definitely not easy, and it’s a very new experience and I hope I learn from it. 

Photo Credits: David Wagstaff

Q) So normally when there is an interruption, they say that you lose the rhythm. But in this case, would it be fair to say that you were able to utilize that time to rethink, strategize and come back stronger? 

Yeah, definitely. I think there was no rhythm. So I don’t think I could lose anything, you know. I had a very bad start and I wasn’t feeling good at all. So yeah, in this, in this particular situation, I think it worked in my favor to have that one day break and to think what I could do better and come back better the next day. 

Photo Credits: David Wagstaff

Q) You touched briefly upon it earlier that this is a different surface than what you normally play on and I was just going through the statistics yesterday, you primarily compete more in challenger and not so much in ATP. So what kind of adjustments you have made , training wise or otherwise, to compete in this ATP 250, to compete on this grass surface? 

Honestly, no adjustment. I think I just took a chance. I remember 3 weeks before telling my coach that, you know, I’m getting to play ATP 250. Why not? I can always play challengers, but I I won’t. Maybe a life turning moment is waiting there. I didn’t know that this is what would happen. But I took the chance and not always you. You get rewarded for taking a risk. Sometimes you have to accept it. But I think more than anything this is a I see this as a reward for taking a very brave decision to come and compete. In an ATP letting go of a challenger in Canada, I know I could have played, but I still took a chance and you know I knew it’s on grass and it won’t be comfortable. So I think that that I would. I wouldn’t say like it’s kind of stupid and crazy in a way I think. That’s not how normal people would think. But I think that’s what differentiates some people from others, those decisions. And I think that is at the end of the day I think I just got rewarded for taking that chance, you know, to take that risk and to and to back that decision.

Photo Credits: David Wagstaff

Q) So at Newport, many Indian players have played in the past. Vijay Amritraj won the opening edition and then more recently, Ram had a very good run in 2018 and Ram has been competing here fairly regularly. So did you speak to Ram or any other Indian players in getting some tips on this particular tournament? 

I think regarding Ram. I don’t think he is really aware of what he’s doing on the tennis court, so it’s hard to follow his tips. We always have those jovial discussions. He just he just says don’t think, play, don’t think, play and it took me 5 years to understand the guy is right. You know that that’s exactly what tennis is, ‘Just don’t think and play’. And initially I thought, OK, the guy is crazy, but now I think it that’s also probably a good way to play sometimes, you know, to not think too much and just go for it. But to be honest, no, I didn’t take any tips. I just came with no expectations and yeah, whatever is happening is happening so. 

Q) What is your pre match routine? How do you prepare or focus for the upcoming game? 

I’m still figuring that out. I haven’t really found a set routine because sometimes being intense work, sometimes being calmer work, so I I’m still going through that process of finding what exactly works for me. So maybe in a couple weeks I’ll find that out and finalize on what what I really have to do. 

Photo Credits: David Wagstaff

Q) And then talking a little bit, going a little further ahead, you are part of the Indian squad for the Asian Games that will be played later this year. If you can comment a little bit on your preparations for Asian games? 

I think knowing my personality and knowing the way I am, the less less I care about it will be better for me because I don’t play tennis well when I overthink things and you know, really set harsh goals for myself. So I think I’m just expecting to have a very good time with my teammates to experience that aura of it, and I’m going to meet two of my very, very close friends who are who’s a high jumper for India and he has, he already holds the national record for high jump for triple jump in India. So he’s a phenomenal athlete and I’m meeting him after the Commonwealth Games. I’m competing with him in the same tournament because, you know, that’s the only chance where we have to be together and I didn’t make the Olympics last time. So you know this first time I’m going to see him and a swimmer also. So I’m very very excited to, you know, meet them all again and also my tennis teammates. You know, I think I share a great rapport with all of them and my idols like Yuki, my favorite player to watch is on the squad and Rohan is on the squad so I think it will be a treat to watch them compete and support them and and play in front of them while they are supporting this. This will be an absolute great experience. I just hope I don’t put too much pressure on myself and I can find way to still play good tennis and to still compete hard, but still enjoy myself out there because these opportunities don’t come time and again. So I think my my goal is to at least just make the most of it, make it a memorable journey. I think I should look back many years from now and really smile at those memories. You know, I think it doesn’t make sense at this point of my life to put pressure for goals or anything you know. Of course there it would be nice if it happens, but the most important thing is to is to appreciate that you are in the squad and to enjoy that moment as much as possible because only two players make it there. So for whatever reason, I made it. So I’m just gonna go there and and feel that privilege and and enjoy my time. 

Q) One final question on similar lines. As India’s # 2 singles player, any comments on prospects for the Davis Cup later this September? 

Well, hopefully you know I think I might be playing a singles match this year. That’s at least what the plan is as of now. Of course, it’s up to the captain’s final decision to decide who plays. I think I’m pretty confident and the last two ties also we were here. It’s not as far as it looks. You know we had our chances, had some unfortunate losses. You know our players, lot of our players went through some rough patches. You know, Sumit was injured for a long time. Ram went through his, you know, up and down phase and Praj was also injured. So you know, I don’t think we had a full squad ready and this time I think we are better prepared and especially we are at home. I think every athlete goes through a slump. And you know, after a few good years, they face rock bottom and that’s the same with the team also. You know, even the best teams in the world, they go through that slump. I know we are in Group 2 now, but I think I’m very positive about it. It’s never too late to start and it’s never a shame to start all over again. I don’t think anybody should look at it that way, and especially we are starting with the ‘Next Gen’. For the first time it’s going to be me and Sumit playing, so hopefully and we are both below 26 years old, so this is our first time where two of us are playing this the same time, so hopefully we can build up the empire again. We can get those wins going and you know, I think it will be extremely important to get a good start in Lucknow. That will set the tone for February next year, hopefully we win this tie. More than winning it, we build that connection again with the team, we start feeling strong with each other building that connection with the physios, with the teammates, with the captain, the coach, you know. We did go back to the drawing board now and we did figure out a lot of things. So hopefully we get that momentum going again. You know, that’s the most important, figuring out which doubles team works for us. And you know,who plays, who feels good on the first day, who doesn’t. To figure out all those things. And then we will hopefully get the ball rolling. It’s a long journey, but I’m looking forward to it and I’m very confident about it that we can gain back the lost glory for sure. 

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