An unprecedented 21 singles players from India will compete at the KPIT-MSLTA Challenger starting from Monday at the Balewadi stadium in Pune. The tournament, organised by the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association Secretary, is the longest-running ATP Challenger event in India.
Prajnesh Gunneswaran, the top-ranked Indian at 95 this week, will lead the strong Indian challenge as top seed, along with India No 2 Sumit Nagal, the world No 127, while Ramkumar Ramnathan, Sasikumar Mukund and Saketh Myneni will be seeded in the main draw as well.
As many as 19 Indians are featuring in the singles main draw and two more will join them from the qualifying. Having more than 20 players in the singles main draw is a record for any host nation. With four players, Japan will be the second in the entry list, followed by three players from Russia.
Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri, who was earlier scheduled to play the event, will not be part of the Challenger. The other notable singles seeds are James Duckworth, Steven Diez, Jay Clarke, Roberto Ortega-Olmedo and Duckhee Lee. All seeded players have a bye in the first round. The tournament will have the new 48-player draw with the ranking cut-off at 550 this year.
The draw has thrown up some interesting match-ups such as Arjun Kadhe and Siddarth Rawat, who have been chosen in the probable squad for the Davis Cup tie between India and Pakistan. Another interesting match up is the round of 16 clash between Sasikumar Mukund and Saketh Myneni. Nagal is drawn to meet Ramkumar Ramanathan in the quarter-finals.
The season-ending Challenger offers crucial points for the top Indian players. India No 1 Prajnesh, who was the runner-up to Elias Ymer last year after winning the Challenger in Bengaluru, needs to defend his points from last year and stay in the top 100. The current season till date has gone without a title win for him, with a runner-up finish at Anning being his best result. He had injury concerns in the last event he played as well.
Prajnesh, whose father passed away on Saturday, has decided to compete in the event. “I am playing. My father would want me to play. I will honour his wish. It’s the last tournament of the season, I will finish it,” Prajnesh was quoted as saying by PTI.
Sasi Kumar Mukund, who has not had a great 2019 as he made just one final in Baotou, is also a player to watch out for. While this will also be an opportunity to do well for local boy Arjun Kadhe and the 2018 national champion Siddharth Vishwakarma.
In the doubles, the all-Indian pair of Purav Raja and Ramkumar Ramanathan, who won the Challenger at Kobe in Japan last week, has been given the top seeding. The doubles event, which features six other all-Indian pairs, was won by Ramkumar and Vijay Sundar Prashanth last year.