Jeevan: I could have been on a flight back home!

The Indian’s dream of playing at Wimbledon was nearly shattered when his doubles partner, Hyeon Chung, withdrew due to an ankle injury. Fortunately, he found a partner in the 20-year-old American Jared Donaldson and claimed the last spot in the much-coveted Wimbledon main draw.

“I met Jared at Eastbourne and requested to partner with him. We saw each other play for a bit and agreed to pair up,” said an excited Jeevan.   -  R. Ragu

Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan has had the most interesting 24 hours of his life. His dream of playing his maiden Grand Slam, and that too at the prestigious Wimbledon, was nearly shattered when his doubles partner, Hyeon Chung, withdrew due to an ankle injury. Left with less than a day to find a new partner, Jeevan had little choice.

“I have been playing tournaments in England for the last three weeks and thought this would have been the perfect warm-up leading to the Wimbledon. When Chung told me he could not play, I felt like I had shot myself in the foot. I honestly had no other options,” said Jeevan, in an exclusive interview with Sportstar. “It was very difficult for me to stay in the moment. I tried hard to go through my routine and continue with my practice sessions,” he added.

Since Jeevan is playing in the main draw at the ongoing Eastbourne tournament, a wildcard at the Big W was out of question. But what other options did the Chennai lad have? “None!,” he says, amidst laughs. “I honestly had no other options. I called up the tournament organisers to see if I could partner a British wildcard player, but that did not work out either,” he said from Eastbourne.

“I could have been on a flight back home!”

With lady luck by his side, Jeevan’s fortunes changed for the better today. He found a partner in the 20-year-old American Jared Donaldson and claimed the last spot in the much-coveted Wimbledon main draw. “I met Jared at Eastbourne and requested to partner with him. We saw each other play for a bit and agreed to pair up,” said an excited Jeevan.

The 28-year-old says it was his biggest goal to play at the Wimbledon, since his childhood, and is enthralled to have finally got the opportunity. “It’s, honestly, a huge achievement for me to be playing in the main draw. I have been playing on grass for the last three weeks and I’m physically and mentally ready to play at the W. I’m hoping to give it my best.”

But that was not all; Jeevan and his Australian partner, Matt Reid, defeated the reigning French Open champions, Ryan Harrison and Michael Venus 6-3, 3-6, 10-7 at the Aegon International Open on Monday. “Today’s victory was the icing on the cake. Reid and I had nothing to lose, given we were playing against the French Open champions. While it was a close match, I think we were the better team in the end. Playing on grass is all about keeping your nerves and serving well and we did just that,” said an elated Jeevan.

Jeevan began the year on a winning note by clinching the Aircel Chennai Open when he paired up with Rohan Bopanna, and there’s a funny tale to their partnership. “Bopanna and I discussed playing the Aircel Chennai Open last year. I made a deal with him that if I broke into the top 150, he would have to play doubles with me. He agreed and we played a tournament in China. Although we lost in the second round, he knew I was capable of doing better.

“So I cracked another deal with him. I told him that if I broke into the top 100 by the end of 2016, he would have to partner me at the Chennai Open and I finished exactly on 100 when the year ended. I sent him a message and it turned out that he was scheduled to leave for Colombo. But given that we had a deal, he advanced his trip and played the Chennai Open with me, even though it was not a part of his calendar.”

Jeevan went on to credit Bopanna for his recent run. “Bopanna has helped me a lot, and I have met a lot of people through him. He has been very crucial to my success this year and I would not be where I am without him.”

He also spoke highly of the 21-year-old Chung and said he could be a strong contender in the future. “I look forward to pairing up with him very soon,” he added.

Given that players keep shuffling their doubles partners, Jeevan said finding a permanent partner is half the battle in doubles. “Finding a permanent doubles partner is very important, it is half the battle in doubles. The format demands that you have a set partner, but at the same time you should ensure that you don’t settle down with someone you don’t see yourself winning Grand Slams with,” said the 28-year-old. “Finding a set partner is difficult right now, given that I am ranked in the 90s, but I hope to find one in the next six months. I need to improve my ranking and look for a higher ranked partner.”

Jeevan signs off by hinting about another deal with Bopanna in the offing. “I’m going to ask Bopanna to partner me again when I break into the top 50,” he concludes, with a hint of cheekiness.

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