Sweat, toil, roars, applauds, sighs and with it all, the curtains drop on yet another tennis season. It was a roller coaster year of tennis extravaganza that took fans with delirium. Edge of the chair thrillers, moments of fret plus joy and the boisterous cheering underlined the state of every single Indian tennis fan. But for a while now, it is quaint on the tennis courts. No ripping sounds of the balls. The screeches of the footwork on the turf are being missed. Tennis stars are soaking up some sun and rest, pampering their weary hands and feet after a grueling ten months of blistering action on the tour.
Like always, any sporting calendar is a mixed bag packed with flavors of glory, some missed opportunities, some delightful surprises and some heartbreaks that stay etched in the memories for a lifetime. This year was no exception.
It was a fairly good season for Indian tennis. And although we do have a long way to go, the players with their performances ensured that there are lots to look ahead with optimism.
Testimony to this, in a very recent interview at the KIA Motors event, India’s Davis Cup captain, Mahesh Bhupathi was quoted saying, “Indian Tennis has an unprecedented depth in its talent pool and is headed in the right direction.” Very rightly so and the year of 2018 for the first time saw three of our singles men in the top 150 of the ATP rankings. Ramkumar Ramanathan at 133, Yuki Bhambri at 137 and Prajnesh Gunneswaran topping the Indian tennis charts in singles at 107 has indeed been commendable.Also Read: Dear Mr. Bhupathi, I have a question
On the WTA it was our girls Karman Thandi and Ankita Raina who made inscriptions on the big stages with their newfound chemistry in the doubles. Both getting almost close to top 200 (Ankita at 213 and Karman 219) is what filled the hearts of Indian tennis fans with hope. Even 19-year-old Pranjala Yadlapalli grabbed headlines on the ITF circuit becoming the biggest ranking mover of the year.
And while the offseason lets athletes rejuvenate and prepare for the season next, we relive the defining moments of Indian tennis in 2018
Get set as we give you the season snapshots of those salient stories that need to be told time and again.
Most improved player of the year on the ATP Tour: Prajnesh Gunneswaran
The southpaw from Chennai, Prajnesh Gunneswaran took the year by storm and we list him in the category of the Most Improved ATP singles player of Indian tennis. Winning matches and hearts, the 29-year-old has scaled the rankings with a whopping 136 places. Gunneswaran began the year at 243 and worked his way to the zenith of the singles rankings of the country. Usurping Yuki Bhambri for the top spot and finishing the season at World No 107, the Indian Davis Cupper has carved a niche for himself and how.
What is heartwarming is his story of resilience in the face of injuries. Overcoming knee fractures to scripting a memorable year, the Asiad singles Bronze medalist has been a beacon of inspiration and a fighting spirit that can barely be defined in words.
Basking in one of the breakthrough seasons of his career, Gunneswaran proved his mettle winning two Challenger titles (Anning and Bengaluru). By making his maiden main draw of an ATP event in Stuttgart, the Chennai star reveled in one of his biggest triumphs by bundling out Denis Shapovalov, a top 50 player who boasts of a win over Spanish Great Rafael Nadal. Prajnesh broke into the limelight this year with his Davis Cup heroics when he beat Chinese rising star Wu Yibing in the decisive fifth rubber.
And amidst the strides, the major heartbreak came when Gunneswaran sneaked into the main draw of a Grand Slam, that of the French Open for the first time ever as a lucky loser but could not make use of the opportunity. Having narrowly missed the chance as he had left the city of Paris, Prajnesh decided to not let the loss bog him down.
From thereon, he made a marked improvement in his performance and kept treading on the tour. The Asian games, men’s singles Bronze medal that came into his kitty also made the nation proud. Prajnesh is playing a lot more aggressive now. He has worked massively on his returns, fitness and mental stability and this is reaping rewards for the Indian tennis star.
In the offseason, Gunneswaran is training with coach Bastian Suaanprateep at Waske tennis Academy in Germany and looks all optimistic to be pushing himself more in the year of 2019.
Also Read: Prajnesh Gunneswaran keeps pushing limits
Most improved WTA player: Pranjala Yadlapalli
19-year-old Pranjala Yadlapalli without a hint of doubt has been the newest poster girl of Indian Women’s tennis. On an upward trajectory in both singles and doubles, the Guntur born teenager reached her career best ranking of 280 in October this year. Yadlapalli had finished the last season at 497 and this massive scale rightly takes the Hyderabadi girl into the category of the biggest ranking movers of the year in our analysis.
Winning two back to back $25,000 singles ITF titles in Lagos and two $25,000 doubles titles in Nonthaburi with Rutuja Bhosale, Pranjala has come off as a budding force to reckon with in Indian women’s tennis. Diligently moving ahead, Yadlapalli who is now making noise on the ITF circuit will surely enjoy a breakthrough on the WTA very soon.
Also playing in her maiden main draw of the $125K series WTA event in Mumbai, Pranjala was almost close to victory over Luksika Kumkhum until the opponent turned tables. Nevertheless, her guts and the fighting spirit shall most certainly elevate the girl to bigger heights in the future. It is just a matter of time.
Biggest surprise: Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan’s consistency on the Challenger circuit
Rewind back to 2017, the left-hander from Chennai finished the year at 102 and fast forward to now, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan is perched at No 74 in the ATP doubles rankings. His consistent performances and results on the Challenger tour need a special mention every time the heroics of the season will be spoken about. We place his stupendous run into the category of the “Biggest Surprise” on the tour while drawing a comparison with his past results.
In the last season, the southpaw had won the Chennai Open with Rohan Bopanna and clinched just a single challenger (Ostrava) title. While this year, Nedunchezhiyan won Four challenger titles (Dallas, Ilkley, Winnetka, and Monterrey) along with runner-up finishes in challengers at Lille, Tallahaassee, Savannah, Nottingham and Shennzhen. Jeevan with his partner Austin Krajicek made it to the Final of the ATP 250 for the first time in Chengdu which in itself was the sweetest surprise for Indian tennis fans.
It will remain to see if Nedunchezhiyan can ride on this brilliant form and make more noise on the ATP circuit in the next season.
Biggest letdown: Yuki Bhambri
Carrying the tag of the top player of the country can be cumbersome at times. And none other than Yuki Bhambri knows well about it. Moreover, battling a career ravaged with injuries takes a toll on the mental health as well. Bhambri, 26 who qualified for the Australian Open but lost his first round in the main draw also had a brilliant American hard court swing. Bhambri reached the third round of the Masters 1000 event in Indian @ells and also made the second round in Miami. He raised a deluge of hope in his Indian fans as he rode the winning tide to lift the Taipei challenger title in April. But fate can be cruel and a knee injury forced the Indian tennis ace to concede his first round match of the main draw at the Queens club championship against Milos Raonic. Failing to live up to the expectations, Bhambri was a letdown as the season progressed.
Bhambri fought his way to get back to the courts with a first round at Wimbledon. But despite having a set lead, the Delhi star lost to Thomas Fabbiano to exit the championships. He also played the first round of in New York at Flushing Meadows but lost a very close match against Pierre Hugues Herbert.
The major reason why we list Yuki Bhambri in the category of “Biggest letdown” is also because he also did not participate in the Asian Games, a prestigious team event which generally is a dream for any athlete of the country.
But like they say, injuries often mar an athlete’s career in more ways than one and that has been the major reason for Bhambri being pushed to the sidelines.
Biggest moment: Ramkumar Ramanathan’s runner-up finish at the ATP 250 event in Newport.
As we look back into the year, the “Biggest moment” of Indian tennis in our analysis was when the country’s second best, 24-year-old Ramkumar Ramanathan swept his fans off the feet in July. Ramkumar became just the second player after Somdev Devvarman (did in 2011 in Johannesburg) to reach the Final of an ATP event at the Dell Technologies, Hall of Fame Championships in Newport. It was a huge, emotional moment for Indian tennis when the star of their country reached the finale of the ATP 250 event after 7 long years.
Ramanathan, who displayed some terrific netplay with those scintillating volleys and aces throughout the tournament won hearts of numerous fans back home and around the globe. Grabbing headlines for putting India on the map of recognition on that monumental stage, Ramanathan garnered praises and applauds galore. Although he lost the final, the impressions he left on fans and Indian tennis will linger on for a long time to come.
Special Mention: Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan
Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan’s Asian games doubles gold was another huge moment for Indian tennis. 38-year-old Bopanna and 32-year-old Divij Sharan came together as a pair for the first time ever on the circuit. Fireworks were expected but we got more. Their combination worked wonders which gifted India a Gold Medal in the Men’s doubles in Jakarta.
The Gold was special as Rohan Bopanna was coming from an injury layoff and yet found that supreme edge over his opponents. The seasoned Bopanna along with Sharan left no stone unturned to clinch victory and land India its fifth gold medal at the men’s doubles event at the Games. The maiden Gold for both Sharan and Bopanna stands as the Biggest moment of the year for Indian tennis.
Two of India’s top WTA players, Karman Kaur Thandi and Ankita Raina also gave the country a lot to cherish this year. Raina, 25 won her maiden Asiad games Bronze medal in the women’s singles. She became just the second after Sania Mirza ( who won a silver in Doha in 2006 and a bronze in Guangzhou in 2010) to win a medal at the prestigious games.
Another moment of glory for Indian tennis came when Karman and Ankita paired up for the first time and lifted their maiden WTA $125K title in Taipei. They also carried the momentum to win consecutive titles triumphing in Pune at the BVG ITF $25K event of the women’s championships.
Summing up the season, we are assured of lots to look forward to in 2019. The need of the hour is to help our athletes get the necessary support and financial backing to help them soar into the skies for more glory.
Here are a few things we can watch out for in the coming season:
Prajnesh Gunneswaran’s forehand magic and his huge serve that he displayed this season should most certainly be the thing of beauty to watch out again. Cracking into the top 100 is on the cards.
With Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan making an announcement of their partnership for the next year on tour, we can expect dramatic results on the Tour in the doubles. A possible Doubles Grand Slam title is easily achievable if the all Indian duo sets their mind on it and uses their experience together on the court.
An injury-free Yuki Bhambri can threaten a few on the tour. If he manages a comeback from the knee injury, he should certainly be the one to watch out for.
Ankita Raina and Karman Thandi’s beautiful on-court chemistry has already reaped results. If or not they play more events together will be very intriguing to watch. The Indian combine certainly has the weapons to wade through the WTA together as a pair.
And as we await the dawn of the new season, the countdown has just begun. Soon we will be back with new stories of grit and perseverance from the Indian tennis action.