Pune Challenger: Sriram Balaji aces Maamoun; Saketh Myneni subdues Brkic

Sriram Balaji fired three aces and executed a splendid return of serve to triumph over Egyptian Davis cupper Karim-Mohamed Maamoun 6-4, 6-2 in the first round of the Pune Challenger.

Saketh Myneni enroute his 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 win over Tomislav Brkic.   -  Special Arrangement

Given a eleventh-hour entry into the main draw, N. Sriram Balaji eliminated Egyptian Davis Cupper and an opponent ranked over 100 places above him, Karim-Mohamed Maamoun, 6-4, 6-2 in his first round match of the KPIT-MSLTA $ 50,000 Challenger at the Mhalunge-Balewadi Sports Complex on Monday.

Balaji fired three aces and executed a splendid return of serve to clinch the match.

In a second half of the day, wild card beneficiary, Saketh Myneni demonstrated his high-class skills and remarkable temperament to subdue the big-hitting but erratic Bosnian, Tomislav Brkic in nearly one and half hours of pulsating tennis.

A nagging ankle injury had ruled Myneni out as a reserve player for the Davis Cup match against Canada and kept him out action for a little over two months. And after his return to competitive tennis, the 27-year-old from Coimbatore lost to Slovenian Blaz Kavcic (the top seed here) in the first round of the Suzhou Challenger and in the round of 16 qualifier of the Shenzhen Challnger to Japan’s Naoki Nakagawa.

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Drawn to play the first Centre Court match of the tournament, Balaji showed frayed nerves, dropping the fifth game of the opening set on a double fault. But he caused a quick turnaround to break back, playing near flawless tennis. Once he took control of his first serves and the double-fisted back hand strokes, he looked the champion.

Ranked 235 at present, Maamoun came under pressure under the onslaught of his rival’s big and accurate serves and lost the match in one and six minutes.

Looking pleased with his first win since his recovery, Balaji said: "I really served well today; except that double fault in the first set (fifth game to trail 2-3). My opponent’s first serve percentage was really low and I took advantage of that.

"Rankings are just numbers. I was injured for the last three months. The last tournament I played was in August. I had an ligament related ankle injury. I am happy to be back on court. I was comfortable with my game today. "

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He added: "Pune’s altitude is good and it’s good for me. I came here last Wednesday and practised for four-five days, but my opponent came two days back. And so he didn’t have enough practise.’’ 

Vijay Sundar Pradhanth was beaten soundly by Croatian Borna Gojo in the final qualifying round, but he advanced to the first round as a lucky loser. Prashanth will play Aryan Goveas, a recipient of a wildcard entry.

Prajnesh crashes out

In the last first round match played on Centre Court, the 25 year old left handed American, Evan King, created played a classy game to oust last year’s finalist, Prajnesh Gunneswaran. King, ranked 197, won 6-3, 6-3, winning the last point serving an ace. The Indian had beaten King 6-2,6-4 in the US Tiburan Challenger in September.

Results

(1st round) N. Sriram Balaji (Ind) bt Karim-Mohamed Maamoun (Egypt) 6-4, 6-2; Aleksandr Nedovyesov (Kazakhstan) bt Vishnu Vardhan (India) 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (6); Saketh Myneni (India) bt Tomislav Brkic (Bosnia and Herzeg) 6-3, 4-6, 6-2; Jay Clarke (Great Britain) bt Mario Martinez Spain) 3-6,6-4,6-4.

Qualifying (final round) Kaichi Uchida (Japan) bt Alexei Popyrin (Australia) 6-4,6-2;  Borna Gojo (Croatia) bt Vijay Sundar Prashanth (Ind) 6-1,6-2; Antione Escoffier (France) bt Sidharth Rawat (Ind) 6-2,6-3; Hugo  Grenier (France) bt Timur Khabibulin (Kazakhstan) 6-2,6-2.