Prajnesh leads Indian hopes

Prajnesh leads Indian hopes

India's Prajnesh Gunneswaran during a practice session on Sunday, ahead of the Bengaluru Open ATP Challenger at the KSLTA Stadium. DH Photo/ S K Dinesh

Coming on the back of some impressive form, Prajnesh Gunneswaran will lead the home hopes while top seed Radu Albot appears the man to beat in the Bengaluru Open, a USD 150,000 ATP Challenger event, that kicks off here on Monday.

Gunneswaran, whose career has often been plagued by injuries, has finally had a trouble-free run with his body this season and the 28-year-old southpaw has cashed in on it quite well.

An attractive player to watch, fourth seed Gunneswaran clinched his maiden ATP Challenger Tour title when he rallied from a set down to beat Egyptian Mohamed Safwat at the Kunming Open in Anning, China. That win acted as the catalyst he was so desperately seeking for and he has then gone onto to string together some consistent performances that have seen him hit a career-high ranking of 141.

Gunneswaran, who faces Ivan Nedelko in the opening round here at the KSLTA courts, has also been in good touch over the last month, reaching the final of Yinzhou International Challenger and the semifinals of Lizhou International Challenger. "I've been playing well and I've had a good season. Last few weeks in China went well for me. So I'm pretty optimistic and positive coming in," said Gunneswaran following a practice session on Sunday.

Moldova's Albot, the highest ranked player here at 100, is the favourite to wear the crown in the event dubbed South Asia's richest Challenger event. Nicknamed 'Machine' by fellow players, Albot posted the biggest win of this career at this year's Wimbledon when he defeated World No 12 Pablo Carreno Busta in five sets in the opening round. He clinched another five-set thriller in the second round against Alijaz Bedene before succumbing to John Isner in the third round.

Albot, who triumphed in the Lizhou International Challenger last month, has been a regular on the main ATP tour too and even reached the semifinals of the Moselle Open where he lost to Gilles Simon. If the 28-year-old finds his range here at KSLTA, there are very few players who can stop him.

Second seed Marco Trungelliti, who made global news earlier this year when he drove 10 hours from Barcelona to Paris after learning he could enter the French Open as lucky loser and even went on to beat Bernard Tomic in the first round to earn a rich sum of 99,000 euros, has the game to script a memorable journey in Bengaluru too.

Defending champion Sumit Nagal, playing on a wild-card entry, will have to play out of his skin to keep possession of his sole major trophy. Nagal created a buzz with his win last year but his game has since nosedived rather alarmingly. Ranked 310 now, the 21-year-old has struggled to get past the opening round in nearly all events and his task here has gotten all the more difficult after being pitted against seventh seed Jay Clarke in the first round.

Seasoned Saketh Myneni, another wild card entry, offers hope but it's hard to look past Albot and Trungelliti.