Saketh Myneni is a well-known name in the Indian tennis fraternity. Hailing from Vuyyuru, Andhra Pradesh, Myneni has been one of India's top singles players over the last few years. He has even won two ATP Challenger titles - at Indore and Vietnam.
The Indian was conferred with the prestigious Arjuna Award in 2017, having represented India in various international competitions already by then. Myneni's greatest career moment came at the 2014 Asian Games, where he won the gold medal in mixed doubles partnering Sania Mirza.
The 33-year-old played his first Grand Slam match at the 2016 US Open, where he fell to former World No. 35 Jiri Vesely in the first round. Myneni has played five matches on the ATP tour overall, winning two of them. But he has had a lot of success on the ITF tour, capturing as many as nine titles there.
In a recent exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Saketh Myneni spoke at length about his success in Challengers early on, the injuries he suffered at the peak of his career, the importance of rankings, and the player would he like as his dream doubles partner. Here are the excerpts of the conversation:
Exclusive interview with Saketh Myneni
Sportskeeda: You had a great run in 2015, when you won two titles on the ATP Challenger tour. What goals had you set for yourself back then as a singles player, and have they changed in the years since?
Saketh Myneni: From then to now, things haven't changed much. I still want to do well in singles at the big stage. I had some injuries too; it was pretty unfortunate for me as an athlete.
I had some bad things happen to my body, so I had to take some time off and get healthy before competing again. 2015 and 2016 were good years for me in terms of that, (but) in 2017 I lost almost like nine months due to a foot injury.
Sportskeeda: The injury caused your ranking to drop by around 300 spots. How did you deal with that?
Saketh Myneni: When you miss 3/4th of a season, it's always tough (to maintain your ranking). But ranking was never a priority for me; it was always about being healthy and competing at a good level.
I don't really care much about the rankings. People talk about Indian No. 1, 2 and 3, (but) I don't really care about that. For me, it's all about us (Indians) competing against the world. So that way you push yourself, and you push your other mates also.
Of course, you need a good ranking to get into big-level tournaments. But you can't take that as a priority. Your priority should be to get better and keep improving your game. That's the only way you can get yourself to a good level and keep your mind and body always developing, (with) new strategies and new techniques.
Sportskeeda: 2016 was your best year on the tour in terms of ranking. Do you think that was also your best year in terms of the tennis you played?
Saketh Myneni: 2014, 2015, 2016 - I had three good years. In 2018 also I had a good run; I beat some good guys while playing the Challengers. I made the quarters and semis regularly; maybe I didn't win tournaments and stuff but I did make some deep showings.
It's all about believing at that point, about getting that confidence. It all matters when you put together all the work, and show consistency. I think that's what all tennis players like to do.
I had good results outside of India too. Most of us believe we can do well at home, but you still have to do well even in tough conditions, especially with travelling and (facing) new conditions and all. So that's something I've been learning; trying to get more physical conditioning work done (to succeed in different conditions).
Sportskeeda: You did pretty well in alien conditions too, going deep at Tashkent (Uzbekistan) and Agri (Turkey). Would you consider those as important breakthroughs in your career?
Saketh Myneni: Actually, I lost in the semis of Tashkent. I reached the final at Turkey then (losing to Uzbekistan's Farrukh Dustov). But it's good when you get those results; you start believing in yourself, that you can compete at this level.
I've been playing all the Slam qualifiers; at that level, you want to compete at the big stage. That's the next level, trying to be there, and then of course you're going to get your ranking once you get there. And then you have to be consistent with your results, and the game and the body also.
Sportskeeda: In 2016 you faced Jiri Vesely at the US Open, who has been a mainstay on the tour for a long time. Back then did you find a big gap between the players on the ITF circuit and the pro tour?
Saketh Myneni: There's a big difference belief-wise. Once you go to the tour level, I think it's more about having weapons and all that, and being there consistently and believing in yourself.
The ITF is mostly like a stepping stone at the beginning; you get a lot of matches in and you go and grind it out. It's tough, especially mentally; it's tiring for a lot of guys playing in the ITF.
I've done it in the past, and now it's actually tougher to break through unless you come out and win like 5-6 tournaments or something and you get your ranking up. Then they changed the rule two years ago; the ITF points didn't count any more, which is how the Transition tour came into place.
They made it tougher to get into Challengers; the qualifying spots are fewer now, so it's difficult to get in there. So then, you have to (try and) get a wildcard by winning a tournament. That's not very easy for everyone.
Then there are other tournaments in terms of wages; they offer a decent amount, (but) not comparable to Europe or the US. That's something that affects all the tennis players. You just have to believe in yourself and be confident and just go along with it.
Sportskeeda: You only entered the doubles event at the recent M15K Delhi Futures, but not the singles draw. Why is that?
Saketh Myneni: I had actually entered the singles draw too, but had to withdraw due to a lower back injury that I picked up a few weeks ago. I was playing a Futures event, where I reached the final in singles (losing to fast-rising Zane Khan) and won the doubles event. I tweaked my back a little, so I didn't want to rush things.
I didn't know how it was going to feel like coming in. But then, I just wanted to play a tournament if it was in India.
Unfortunately, I had to miss the India F1 and F3. I did play in Lucknow though, but the last two weeks I haven't even trained. My back was a little bad initially, so I wanted to make it healthy.
I'm not sure about playing singles right now; I don't know whether I can play for a whole week and still be healthy. I didn't want to rush things with my back so I entered the doubles here, because it's not that much physical effort compared to singles.
Sportskeeda: As someone who has had his share of bouts with injuries, what are your thoughts on Yuki Bhambri making his tour comeback this year?
Saketh Myneni: I think we have gone through similar conditions, although he (Bhambri) lost a lot more time to injuries than me. I mean, he had broken into the top 100 and had some unbelievable wins. The timing was unfortunate with the second injury he had.
He's back now and playing, but it all depends (on the external factors). It's going to be tough for him because he has to use his Protected Ranking (PR) to play all these tournaments. And now there are fewer tournaments because of COVID and travel restrictions.
It will be a big challenge for him, playing a lot of matches and coming back. (But) I think he's going to play well; I mean, we all know what he can do when he gets going.
I had the good fortune to play doubles with him in Lucknow, and we won the tournament together. So we know each other pretty well, and we help each other.
It's a tough road in tennis. It's a lonely game, since you travel a lot. We train together whenever we can actually; all of us, like Balaji, Jeevan and others.
You'd think it's easy looking from outside, but I think it's a tough game since you're traveling a lot and you have to do everything by yourself.
Sportskeeda: So you play these guys quite regularly, besides teaming up with them. You've played your regular partner Sanam Singh a lot of times on the ITF circuit as well. Was it ever awkward for you, competing against someone you play so often with?
Saketh Myneni: Well, he (Sanam Singh) has stopped right now. He's on a different path at the moment, in the US; he's working with college tennis players there. I don't think I will be able to play doubles with him anymore, but that's how things are like in real life.
About playing them (in singles), that's the bad part - when you have to play a fellow Indian and someone you train with, especially in the earlier rounds. So it's tough, but that's how things in tournament draws and stuff go like.
I mean, we all wish we played a fellow Indian in the finals or something; that would be good as we both would have won trophies for our country. But anyways, that's how it is, you still have to go out there and compete.
There's a chance you're travelling with the same buddy and you might end up playing him in the first round at some tournament.
Sportskeeda: Considering your current ranking, are you going to make a conscious effort towards entering Challengers too, or are you more Futures-oriented right now?
Saketh Myneni: I haven't actually played Futures in a while. And that is because it's easier to play in India; I didn't want to travel as I didn't know how things are with the travel and quarantine restrictions. So just because it's in India, I've played them.
I also think the Challengers are very limited right now. It's going to be tough to get into the qualifying based on the ranking and the current cut-offs at the tournaments.
Sportskeeda: There used to be a lot of Asian Challengers earlier. But that seems off the table right now with the COVID-19 pandemic raging on.
Saketh Myneni: Yeah, now we don't have all those events to play; we have to travel to Europe to play. It will be tough to get into them, since the cut-offs might even be higher.
Like Doha 250 a few weeks ago; there were so many byes as people couldn't travel due to the situation. Even if you entered somewhere, you couldn't play (due to difficulties in travel).
People entered in the hope of playing, but even the qualifying lists went down and they still couldn't find players. Some doubles guys signed up at Doha, even.
Similarly in Singapore, Rohan (Bopanna) played the qualifying as an Alternate. He just went there and entered on Sunday, but it's not easy for everyone to travel at the last second, especially from India. You have to get all the visas and other things sorted out much ahead of time.
Sportskeeda: Lastly, who would be your dream doubles partner if you could choose any player from history?
Saketh Myneni: Ah, there's a lot of guys. I think I would pick Pete Sampras. I don't think he was a doubles guy, but he's the Pistol Pete, and there's a reason why he was called that.
Sampras' serve and volley, everyone loves that. He was an incredible athlete, and it goes without saying what he has done for the style the game was played in then. It was lovely to watch.