Sasi Kumar Mukund exhibits none of the exuberance that one usually associates with youth. The 21-year-old is staid, speaks like a seasoned pro and plays largely risk-free tennis.

But the combination has proved effective and on Tuesday he took yet another step in his graduation to top-level tennis by entering the quarterfinals of the $150,000 Bengaluru Open with a 7-6 (2), 3-1 (retd.) victory over Slovenian Blaz Kavcic.

This will be his fourth Challenger quarterfinal appearance this year and is sure to thrust him to a new career-high ranking following his previous best of 375. It also seemed like the just reward for exclusively concentrating on Challengers. That he hasn’t scored points in 20 of the 28 events he has played hasn’t broken him.

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“My coach is a very optimistic person,” he said after the win. “He’s always looking to put his players on the big stages. Earlier in the year we made a conscious decision to play five Challengers and see how it goes. But then I made two quarterfinals and after that he didn’t want me to play Futures much.”

In the last eight, he will meet fourth seed Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who made tough work of a seemingly straightforward match against German qualifier Sebastian Fanselow, going behind 2-5 in the decider and then a match point down, before clawing his way back 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.

Mukund didn’t necessarily need to mine every last reserve despite playing his fifth match in as many days having started in the qualifiers. Kavcic’s knee gave out early in the second set under the unrelenting afternoon sun. But for a good one hour and 20 minutes, the two barely ceded an inch.

Kavcic broke early in the first set, going up 3-2, but Mukund levelled it at 5-5. He then managed to earn two break points on the Kavcic serve at 6-5 but allowed the latter to escape. In the tie-breaker however, Mukund was ruthless, with an ace, two service winners and an on-the-run forehand helping him clinch the set.

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It seemed like a body blow and the Slovenian roared in exasperation. He even remonstrated with the umpire more than once over some close
line calls. But a dodgy knee meant that he could seek no recourse.

In roughly same time that Mukund and Kavcic took to play one-and-a-quarter sets, Saketh Myneni and Egypt’s Youssef Hossam played three on the adjacent court, before the Indian emerged victorious 6-1, 3-6, 6-1. He will next spar with Sumit Nagal, who overcame Brit James Ward 6-3, 7 6 (4).