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It's not tough to find 20 cricketers out of 10 million, but tough to pick tennis players from a pool of just 10,000: Vijay Sundar Prashanth

Vijay Sundar Prashanth
Vijay Sundar Prashanth
Rudra Biswas
ANALYST
Modified 04 Apr 2021
Exclusive

Vijay Sundar Prashanth has been a regular presence in Indian tennis for most of the last decade. Hailing from Chennai, Prashanth is a true-blue doubles stalwart who has also had his share of good results in singles.

It was at the 2015 Chennai Open that Vijay Sundar Prashanth first announced himself to Indian tennis enthusiasts. He beat fellow Indian Yuki Bhambri and former top 50 player Ilya Marchenko en route to making his first career appearance in the main draw of an ATP event.

Prashanth also finished as the runner-up to countryman Sumit Nagal in the gold medal match at the 2017 Asian Indoor Games held in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

That said, Vijay Sundar Prashanth has had most of his career success in doubles. The Tamilian was ranked in the top 200 of the ATP rankings for doubles two years ago, and he has also won two doubles titles on the ATP Challenger circuit.

Prashanth's biggest career achievement in doubles came at the 2016 South Asian Games, where he won the gold medal while partnering Ramkummar Ramanathan. The 34-year-old also reached the final in doubles at the M15 ITF Futures event in Lucknow, where he and Vinayak Sharma lost to the team of Yuki Bhambri and Saketh Myneni.

Vijay Sundar Prashanth recently competed at the Delhi Futures event, which is the third and last Futures event to be played in India this year. In a recent interview with Sportskeeda, Prashanth spoke about his success in singles early on, the state of Indian tennis right now, and whether older players have been dominating the ITF circuit the same way they are dominating the ATP tour.

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

Exclusive interview with Vijay Sundar Prashanth

Sportskeeda: You caught everyone's eye in 2015 when you beat your countryman Yuki Bhambri en route to qualifying for the main draw of the Chennai Open. What were the keys to that superb run?

Vijay Sundar Prashanth: I think I had a very good pre-season. Me and my coach had worked for two or three months. And so yeah basically we worked and in between, we played a few tournaments, then we did pre-season again before Chennai Open so we had a set plan and what I had to do. And then I executed the plan.

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Sportskeeda: In the main draw of the Chennai Open you faced Jiri Vesely (CH #35), who has been a tour mainstay for several years. What do you think is the biggest difference between those who play on the ITF and Challenger circuits and those who play on the ATP tour?

Vijay Sundar Prashanth: For me, it's just about playing at a good level consistently. I mean, if you're good enough, (if you've got) vision and financial background, nothing else matters. If you play 30 weeks at a high level, you will only improve in quality match-by-match.

For me, it was the first time I was playing a top 100 player. Well okay not the first time, but second or third time (probably). And then I had to immediately deliver on that stage.

If I had 2-3 years of exposure playing Challengers and qualifying of tour events, or even practice at the highest level, I probably wouldn't have felt that I needed to perform really good that day to win. It would've been another match for me, and that thought process would've made me perform better at that stage.

Sportskeeda: You reached a career-high ATP ranking of 335 in singles back then, but have been focusing more on doubles lately. Are you committed to doubles entirely now, or are you still looking to make inroads in singles?

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Vijay Sundar Prashanth: I decided to focus more on doubles. At least I can get to play Challengers with my doubles ranking, and still get to play more tournaments.

I will be looking to put doubles in my schedule, but obviously, if I get to play singles it's a bonus for me. And if I start doing well in singles again, I can still think of playing more of such events.

With so many late bloomers, playing well past their 30s, I don't want to restrict myself.

Sportskeeda: Do you feel you have a healthy rivalry with your compatriots, whom you frequently partner for doubles? Do you guys motivate each other to play better? How would you describe your relationship with your fellow Indian players?

Vijay Sundar Prashanth: I'm close to people from my batch, or in and around that batch like Vishnu Vardhan. We know each other for about 15-20 years, so the rivalry is healthy. We help each other with tennis, season planning, (and) you know, our families are really close. It's much more than tennis and not just Vishnu, but others as well like (N Sriram) Balaji, Saki (Myneni).

Vijay Sundar Prashanth (L) and Saketh Myneni (R) pose at the 2018 Pro-Tennis Leauge event
Vijay Sundar Prashanth (L) and Saketh Myneni (R) pose at the 2018 Pro-Tennis Leauge event
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All these players I've played, so it's good. We help each other out, we do pre-season together. We try to motivate each other to perform better, so it's good in that way.

Sportskeeda: How would you assess the current state of Indian tennis? Do you feel Indian players suffer a little in terms of tactical acumen or physical conditioning? What do you think can be done to bridge the gap between Indian players and those from the rest of the world?

Vijay Sundar Prashanth: I don't think there's a lack of tactics or even physical ability for that matter. I think all these guys are just as strong as European players. So I will not say it's lack of equipment or something; it has more to do with playing more tournaments.

This (the Delhi Futures) is the first tournament in India in two years. So you can imagine; all the Indian players have to travel outside to play, and not everyone can do that to invest 20 weeks there. I mean, if they have 20 weeks of tournaments here, it will be easier for Indians to play more and you would see the talented bunch playing well and coming out of the group.

Three or four years ago, I remember we had 15-20 Futures in India; that's when you saw a lot of players cracking the top 400 and top 300, which is a stepping stone. They can use that and travel to a few countries to play Challengers, and then test themselves there.

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So I would say more tournaments here, and probably for the top players in India, (the facility) to train at one good place in an ideal situation - such as at a national tennis center, where they can practice with the top 20 players. Then if they're from Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai or wherever, that will not matter.

Sportskeeda: Ramkummar Ramanathan recently got to train in Spain, through an arrangement between TNTA (Tamil Nadu Tennis Association) and a top training centre in the city of Madrid. What are your thoughts on that?

Vijay Sundar Prashanth: Ramkummar (Ramanathan) and Mohit (Mayur Jayaprakash) were taken abroad by the TNTA and they played in Spain. But again, this system is not there all the time. It's just that if you have the money, and if you think these two guys are good enough, you sponsor them privately and you tell them - 'I'm putting my bet on these two guys'.

This is what happens, and it's good since it worked out well for Ram. But if you take the entire Indian tennis, you can't do it for all 500 Indian players.

They need more opportunities here to play matches and train at a good level. If that happens, and we develop a domestic circuit which has more competition and more money, then probably in 5-10 years you will see that people are playing more tennis.

So again, I think it's the probability. So many players play cricket here, and it's not tough to find 20 cricketers who play it out of 10 million people. (But) in tennis, it's tough to pick and choose from just 10,000 players; you can't expect to have top 100 players (from such a small pool).

So if you have more players playing tennis, you will probably see more talented players coming up.

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Sportskeeda: Tennis seems to be skewing older with each passing year. Players who are well into their 30s, like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic etc., are monopolizing the top rungs of the circuit. Is there a similar trend in the ITF circuit, or is it still a young man's game there?

Vijay Sundar Prashanth: In ITF, I think it's tougher because financially it's not rewarding (enough for a player in their 30s) to play Futures and qualifying events all the time. If you have to travel and play, you obviously will spend more money than you earn; (Futures) is just a kind of a stepping stone to play at a higher level. So that's probably why you wouldn't see more 35-year-olds or 30-year-olds playing at the ITF level.

It's not because of physical ability. I think sports science has improved and there is more knowledge now amongst players, whether they are ATP or ITF, on how to take care of your body. (But) after the age of 30, players have to economize, and if they don't then it would stop them from playing in ITF.

I don't see a change (in age trends at ITF level) because I don't think in general, or at average, many players would love to stay at the ITF level for a long time.

Andy Murray is still going strong despite injuries and being well into his 30s
Andy Murray is still going strong despite injuries and being well into his 30s
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There will be an odd player here and there who plays well into their 30s, he probably might even do decent in ITF. But it's tough because as a person and a player you would always want to move up the ladder from ITF to Challengers. And if you're stagnant it kind of plays in your head, and then it becomes tough for them to stay at this level.

On the other hand, you will see more and more players at the tour events and Slams playing well into their 30s, and probably in the next 10 years maybe they will start playing into their 40s too.

Sportskeeda: Some ATP level players manage to stay at or close to the top throughout, while others fall down the ladder before getting a second wind in their careers. Does that happen a lot at the Challenger and ITF level too?

Vijay Sundar Prashanth: You know, Andy Murray is making a comeback, he's playing into his 30s and he feels like he has a shot. And he's still doing it because he's physically there and he's playing at the highest level. (But) if he had had to come from the Challenger level, maybe mentally it would've been tougher for him to come back.

Sportskeeda: Lastly, what are the next few tournaments on your schedule? Are you planning to play outside India at this point?

Vijay Sundar Prashanth: I'll probably be playing more tournaments in the month of May and June. I'm also planning to play in Europe, where there will be some tournaments at the end of April and the start of May. I hope it's not too difficult to get to Europe from here in India.

Published 04 Apr 2021, 14:52 IST
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