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"I don't regret quitting singles - I don't celebrate mediocrity," says Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan

The 28-year-old won his first ATP Tour-level title this year at the ATP Chennai Open.

Exclusive 20 Jan 2017, 13:34 IST
Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan won his debut ATP title at the Chennai Open this year with Rohan Bopanna

Unassuming and friendly, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan isn’t your typical sportsperson at an interview. Fresh off winning his title at the Chennai Open, he’s at lunch with friends when we speak. “It’s not a worry at all, glad to talk,” the 28-year-old says. 

One of the most frank, honest players I’ve spoken to, Nedunchezhiyan, who recently made the shift from singles tennis to doubles, discusses the move with me. 

“It was a no-brainer, really. It was a necessary move, and one I don’t regret. I work very hard, but I was not finding success in the singles. At some point, I had to take that call, and make the move. I wasn’t moving up beyond a certain ranking in the singles.”

Nedunchezhiyan reached a career-highest rank of 293 in the singles, but had significantly more success in the doubles – and it has not been specific to his partners. He’s now among the 100 best doubles players in the world.

“I don’t regret the move. There was no point constantly floundering at X ranking in the singles.”

I don’t want to celebrate mediocrity, I want to succeed.”

His shift from singles to doubles came after significant advice from Nedunchezhiyan’s peers – among the best tennis talents the country has produced. “I sat down with Som(dev Devvarman, former Indian No. 1), and a bunch of other friends, and consulted them, and they thought it was a great idea too. They told me I could be great in the doubles, and after deliberation and consultation and much thought, I took that call. And I stand by it.”

The doubles ace has made his transition the hard way, spending a significant time exclusively on the Challenger tour before moving onto ATP250 events and further – and winning a title. This year, the Chennai-based ace took the Chennai Open title with former top 10 player Rohan Bopanna; it is India’s only event on the ATP Tour, making the win even more significant.”

“Rohan is an amazing partner,” he says, “and has so much experience. He plays at a lot of events. He plays Grand Slams.”

Playing grand slams, Nedunchezhiyan says, is the ultimate goal. 

Over the past year – the 2016 season, he has played with 21 different partners, all over the world, on a variety of surfaces. That has helped him adapt his game, and learn new skills from each hitting partner and doubles partner he has had.

It is this, perhaps, that makes the player so adaptable. 

But beyond the skill in his game, Nedunchezhiyan mentions something that was key in evolving his maturity, in shaping him as a person. Unlike many players who, like him, had a successful juniors career, Nedunchezhiyan chose not to go professional immediately, but take the college route instead. It is a road both Saketh Myneni and Somdev Devvarman took, and one each player has spoken of as key in shaping them. 

The University of Washington alum says the experience “made me who I am. It was vital in many ways, not just in my game. College, and collegiate tennis, gave me the maturity, the grounding I really needed to play the game at a better level. I absolutely don’t regret going through college before I went professional.”

“It changed my game, and for the better,” he tells me, “it made me believe in myself. If I ever lacked for confidence at all, college helped me build that up and made me the player I am.”

That player has won a title to start the new season, and is only aiming for more. I’ve moved from Challenger to 250, the move is now to 500s and masters, and Majors hopefully.”

Nedunchezhiyan speaks fondly of his coach, Vikram Menon, a former tennis professional himself. “He helped me change my game and work it to my advantage, and he has been a great influence,” he says. 

That relationship has been a fruitful one. 

Last year, Nedunchezhiyan took a doubles win over the World No. 13 ranked Grand Slam winner Feliciano Lopez – in straight sets on the ATP Tour. He made a number of finals last year at a number of ATP Challenger events across the globe, and won a number of titles – with different partners – proving, as a result, his significant skill.

“I don’t want to do something, or play something, just to be in the news,” he says, “I want to succeed.”

At 84th on the ATP World Tour doubles standings, and displaying better and better tennis with each event, Nedunchezhiyan is well on that path. An unsung hero for our doubles game, he is no doubt due bigger successes in the near future.

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