Yuki Bhambri, Saketh Myneni, Sumit Nagal, Prajnesh Gunneswaran have been the Indian players to have entered the main draw of a Grand Slam since 2013 but all have exited in the first round. The novelty factor associated with making the main draw of a major has worn off with nine straight appearances. But, the last to win an opening match in the Round of 128 at the elite level was Somdev Devvarman at Flushing Meadows in 2013. Since then, the record reads: Bhambri (0-6), Prajnesh (0-5), Devvarman (0-3), Myneni (0-1), Nagal (0-1) which is 16 straight first-round defeats.
Prajnesh worsened his record following a straight-sets defeat to Tatsuma Ito of Japan on Tuesday at the Australia. “I feel like I’m letting it affect me more than it should. I need to get past that. I'm playing a lot below par than I can and I need to focus on changing that," he said after the 4-6, 2-6, 5-7 loss.
"More than it being a five-set match, I'm putting too much focus on the fact that I’m playing a Grand Slam and that affected me. I need to get over that and believe that I’m playing in Grand Slams on a regular basis and just play normally,” he said.
It was a great opportunity for Prajnesh, a lucky loser, to face Novak Djokovic in the second round. It would have helped him earn plenty of eyeballs, earn prize money (AUD 128,000) and ranking points from the win over World No 146 Ito. But Prajnesh was a depleted player either way: His playing left arm was heavily strapped, due to wrist and elbow issues, and the usually blistering serve was not firing on full cylinders with the top spin heavy forehand severely hampered.
Based on head-to-head rankings, there have been quite a few opportunities for Indian players to prolong their stay at a Slam. Prajnesh, at 123, was 23 places higher than Ito; Bhambri was ranked higher when he played Marcos Baghdatis at Australian Open, Ruben Bemelmans at Roland Garros and Thomas Fabbiano at Wimbledon in 2018.
"The simplest answer is that we're not good enough yet. It is not an answer that anyone wants to hear, least of all the players, but some of it is luck. It is also that we haven't taken our opportunities. Prajnesh had played four first rounds last year, Sumit came up against Roger Federer, but Prajnesh should be fairly disappointed. He didn't come through qualifying, got a chance as a lucky loser, then he's in the 120s, Ito in the 140s, with Novak Djokovic in the second round, so it (the chance) was there. He's had success on the tour; he's beaten Nikoloz Basilashvili, Benoit Paire, so he knows how to win matches. It comes down to winning five-set matches at a Slam, so too bad for Prajnesh," said Devvarman when asked why the Indian players weren't able to go beyond the opening round.
To highlight the dismal record for Indian singles players at Slams, if you take away Devvarman's record, the last player to reach the second round was Leander Paes at Wimbledon in 2001! Devvarman's first-round wins have come over Frederico Gil (2009 US Open), Denis Gremelmayr (2011 Wimbledon), Bjorn Phau (2013 Australian Open), Daniel Munoz (2013 Roland Garros) and Lukas Lacko (2013 US Open) but the now-retired player lost thereafter to Feliciano Lopez (2014 Australian Open), Aleksandr Nedovyesov (2014 Roland Garros) and Jerzy Janowicz (2014 Wimbledon).
With Gunneswaran admitting the pressure of Grand Slam got to him at Melbourne Park, Devvarman suggests the only solution to it is by putting in even more hard work. "A lot of it comes from hard work and self-belief, that's the way I understand it and that's how I did it. Whenever you have doubts, you work past it. In Prajnesh's case it will probably happen because he's a modest, hard-working guy and never gets ahead of himself. Just hope he gets more opportunities and makes them count," said the 34-year-old who is the expert panelist for Australian Open coverage in India.
The injuries haven't helped the Indian players convert their success and surprise wins from the tour to the majors. Bhambri hasn't featured since October 2018, Nagal has had shoulder issues and Prajnesh has had a largely injury-prone career with the latest bout of wrist concern coming at the wrong time.
In the men's doubles department, India have no challengers left with Rohan Bopanna losing in the first round and Divij Sharan in the second. The duo plans to play together at the Tokyo Olympics but are working with different partners at the moment to get their rankings higher to qualify. The flipside to it is the lack of playing time together to get the coordination right. "At this point, all we can do is hope that their ranking is high enough so that they can get into the Olympics. That is the primary focus and objective. They've been around for a long time, they've been on the tour for a while and understand what they need to do to get their ranking higher to qualify for the Olympics. So once they qualify, they can play together closer to the Olympics," said Devvarman.
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Updated Date: Jan 24, 2020 14:55:43 IST