Indians look to serve a surprise

Indians look to serve a surprise

Tennis Chennai Open : Two-time champ Cilic starts favourite; Agut strong contender

Indians look to serve a surprise

India’s top singles players, led by number one Saketh Myneni, would look to better their record at big events when they brush shoulders with some of the best in the business, including World No. 6 Marin Cilic, at the ATP Chennai Open tennis tournament, beginning here on Monday.

Despite not having three-time winner Stanislas Wawrinka, it’s a rich field which will feature six top-50 players in the singles draw, including Cilic, who had a great 2016, his country-mate and last year’s finalist Borna Coric, Spaniards Roberta Bautista Agut and Albert Ramos-Vinolas. The onus is on the Indians to make their presence felt.

It has been a while that both Myneni and local boy Ramkumar Ramanathan have been striving to make an impression on the Tour but mostly they have competed at the Challenger level.

Both have been given wild card entries into the main draw and they need to make it count. This is the only ATP 250 event that India has and the country has already lost many Challengers last year. The 29-year-old Myneni did make progress last year when he qualified for the US Open but he needs to find a way to manage his fitness and consistently play at the ATP 250 level.

Myneni is pitted against seasoned Russian Mikhail Youzhny, world number 57, and the Indian needs to be at his best to get past him.

Ramkumar has shown promise from his early days and has enjoyed a few memorable wins but lacks consistency. He has the serve and ground strokes but needs to compliment his game with mental strength and strong legs. The Chennai boy does not know his opponent as yet as he is drawn to meet a qualifier in his opening round.

In the absence of Wawrinka, who decided to give the event a miss after winning three consecutive titles here from 2013-15, Cilic, from Croatia, headlines the international field.

The tall Croat would look to carry forward his stunning success in 2016, during which he beat Novak Djokovic at the Paris Masters. This was after he won his first ever Masters title in Cincinnati where he downed Andy Murray in the final and ended the season with his career-best rank of six.

Cilic, who has triumphed here twice (2009, 2010), will certainly be the favourite to lift the title.

Bautista Agut, world number 14, too had very productive 2016 as he won two ATP titles and also boasted of a win over Serbian great Djokovic.

Coric has taken decent strides after turning professional late in 2013 and the 20-year-old Croat would look to start the new season with a strong show in Chennai.

India have a strong presence in the doubles field with as many as four pairs, apart from legendary Leander Paes, who has paired up with Andre Sa from Brazil.

Yuki qualifies

Yuki Bhambri, making a comeback from an elbow injury, on Sunday qualified for the singles main draw with fluent 6-3, 6-1 win over Argentine Nicolas Kicker in the second round even as Prajnesh Gun-neswaran was ousted 6-7 (2) 2-6 by Slovakia’s Jozef Kovalik.