Coronavirus outbreak a new headache for Indian tennis players

Indian tennis players Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Ramkumar Ramanathan and Sasikumar Mukund will have to target new challengers after four in China were cancelled.

Ramkumar Ramanathan

Ramkumar Ramanathan has played three Chinese Challengers in each of the past two years and reached the final of a $125,000 Challenger in Chinese Taipei in April 2018.   -  R. RAGU

Following the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus in China, the schedules of India’s top singles players have been badly affected. In the recent past, Prajnesh Gunneswaran (No. 122), Ramkumar Ramanathan (No. 182) and Sasikumar Mukund (No. 263) have used the rapidly improving East Asian swing of the ATP Challenger circuit in March and April to prop up their rankings.

But with the ATP cancelling all four Challengers in China during March (Qujing, Zhuhai, Shenzhen and Zhangjiagang) players will now have to look elsewhere. The ATP is yet to make a decision on the tournaments in April, but with apprehensions about travelling very high, Indians are set to miss the whole swing.

The $162,480 Anning Challenger scheduled for April has been a happy hunting ground for Prajnesh. He won his maiden Challenger title in 2018 and reached the final last year. Ramkumar has played three Chinese Challengers in each of the past two years and reached the final of a $125,000 Challenger in Chinese Taipei in April 2018. Both Prajnesh and Ramkumar won’t be travelling this year.

“I was supposed to play in China, but won’t be going there,” confirmed Prajnesh. “I’ll be playing in Kazakhstan or something. I just have to look at the calendar and go wherever tournaments are available.”

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For Sasikumar in particular it will be a hard blow, for he played five Challengers in March and April across China and Chinese Taipei including the two in Shenzhen and Zhangjiagang that have been cancelled.

“I don't have a schedule, where can I plan next?” said a worried Sasikumar. “The tournaments got cancelled last Tuesday. For now the plan is to stay in Europe. I don't know what's going to happen going forward. The Olympics are at stake if it goes on like this!”

China alone was set to host 14 Challengers this year and there are now fears that with the events getting cancelled, the entry cut-offs at other tournaments will go higher. Prajnesh, however, downplayed it.

“Doesn't really make it more difficult,” he said. “It’s just a bit more tricky in that it involves more travelling.” 

The ATP said it was monitoring the situation closely. “We had to cancel or delay the Chinese Challengers in March,” said Alison Lee, the ATP’s Executive Vice President, International Group.

“We have had to adapt, shift a few tournaments so that player flow was not affected. Natural occurrences like this happen and we have to be prepared. But it's mainly China. Although we may look at delaying the April tournaments.”

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