Until he qualified for the US Open in late August, Saketh Myneni held a rather interesting record. Ranked 143, he was the highest-ranked player then currently on Tour, never to have appeared in the main draw of an ATP Tour-level event.
That he broke the jinx at the Flushing Meadows and reached a career-high ranking of 137 was a joyous occasion for him. He had played college tennis in the United States and he proudly called it a “home away from home.”
As the 2017 tennis season dawns, he will now have a chance to finally make an ATP main draw debut at his real home — the Aircel Chennai Open, which begins here on Monday. At 192, he is the highest-ranked Indian singles player and hence was awarded a wild card entry.
“I had a great year,” Myneni said reflecting on the season gone by. “I had a great hard court season. I played all the four Slams [three qualifying and one main draw appearance]. I am pretty happy with what I have been doing in the past eight to 12 months. I was unfortunate to lose in five sets to Jiri Vesely [US Open first round]. But I am not sad about it.”
A win over Vesely would have handed Myneni a dream match against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic. But that didn’t seem to bother him much as he felt he had a lot of things to be proud of.
“You don’t look at it that way. You have to be happy with whatever progress you have made. I was enjoying it. Even when I was struggling with cramps, I was playing smarter tennis. To go as an underdog and still compete like any other was great. In the end, I walked on my own feet back into the locker room [laugh].
“I also played my first live Davis Cup rubber. The pressure, the scenarios all are different in five set matches. There have been lots of positives.”
His first brush with five-set matches has also made him realise the need to work on his fitness with greater rigour. Both against Korea in the Davis Cup and at the US Open against Vesely, he cramped.
“I am trying to keep up my intensity for two to three hours continuously. I am working on my nutrition too. These are the things which can give me a little edge. My tennis has always been explosive. It’s first-strike tennis. I need to get used to playing longer matches and for that I have to train harder.
“I also try serve-and-volley a bit more. Generally I play aggressively from the baseline. But [coming to the net] gives you an additional dimension.”
In this, Myneni felt that doubles had played an important role.
“Playing doubles is one of big reasons for my improvement in singles. For example, it helps target your returns better. In singles you get a full court but in doubles there is limited space. You also do a lot of serve-and-volley and attacking. It’s a style you would want to replicate in singles.”
If all goes well, 2017 could well be the year in which all the incremental gains made in the past year or two results in greater glory.
“I need to make sure that I last the whole season. It hasn’t happened in the last four or five years that I have been on tour. It’s still a work in progress. I hope this is the year I start and finish strong.”