Saketh Myneni, sole Indian in US Open 2016 singles draw, says he is 'confident' and happy going into tournament
India’s top singles player, Saketh Myneni has made the main draw of the men’s singles at the 2016 US Open – and is the only Indian player in the singles draw. Catching up with Sportskeeda ahead of his match, the 28-year-old described himself as ‘happy’ and ‘confident’ going into the game today.
“I honestly just want to give it my best,” he said. “It’s really great playing here, there are so many Indians cheering me on – and they have been there from Day 1, encouraging me, cheering from the stands, providing the support that is so important for a player.”
And the results come after consistent hard work from the player. “I have been working on my game for a while, and my performance has been getting better and better the past few years. Injuries had been hampering that before, but it is going incredibly smoothly now.”
After having bageled his opponent in the final round of qualifying, Myneni faces Czech player Jiri Vesely. At 49th on the men’s ATP standings, Vesely is ranked higher than Myneni; the two are both experienced Davis Cup players, and have met on the professional circuit in that regard. They have never played each other one-on-one in the singles, however.
Does this daunt Myneni? “No, I’m not fazed. I have always said, and continue to say, that it is my racquet that does the talking for me and nothing else. I’m going to bring my best game against Jiri tonight and play out of my skin.”
Should he beat Vesely tonight, Myneni will play World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, if the Serb beats his first-round opponent, Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz. “I haven’t looked at the draws yet myself, but I did have a few calls earlier in the day about playing Novak. I prefer to take things one step at a time, one fight at a time. I need to play my A-game today, first and foremost. He’s a powerful server, and I need to play well tonight, but it’s a brilliant feeling to get so far.”
The news comes on the back of an increasingly better season for Myneni, who was one round away from the main draw at the Australian Open this year. “Honestly, I always had my game, and lately it’s been getting far more consistent than it was. I had been struggling a lot earlier, but it’s getting so much better now.”
Expounding on his injury struggles, Myneni explains “my back and shoulder have been hurting, and those injury struggles caused me to sit out and necessitated a break. They were affecting my game, my consistency, but it's been a good season for me this year."
The men's singles field at the US Open this year is at its richest in some time, Myneni feels. "The younger guys, Zverev, Thiem, they're so good, it's an excellent sign for tennis, for the sport itself. There is such a depth of talent from the newer generations, who will follow the game, that there’s so much to watch and look out for for the future.”
But there aren’t many singles players from India doing what Myneni is doing, or many singles players from India at all. “A lot of them lose their way, honestly. They are very good upto 15, sometimes 16, and they play well, but because we are for the most part an ‘education first’ society, that tends to get lost. And even if they do return after a break, it is difficult for them to pick up exactly where they left off.”
“We do have a few good singles players up and coming, I hope that they stick to their route, and are able to hit their stride.”
Those formative years, he says, are crucial in a player’s development. “I may have peaked sooner myself,” he says, “if I had had that training then. That is partly responsible for the injuries I deal with now. When you’re a teenager and growing, your body develops and trains itself and I missed out on those years.”
Myneni’s route through tennis was unconventional for India – or even Europe, perhaps, although it may be argued the sport itself is not as common in the subcontinent. “I chose to take the college route,” the 28-year-old, who studied at the University of Alabama, says. “I was, and have always been, a team player, and tennis is an individual sport. I learned a lot of team aspects at college, which was great for me. It was not just the game, it was many personal developmental aspects of it. They all came together to make me the player I am. And of course, I kept working on my game.”
“It’s like a second home for me, here,” says Myneni, “and people’s support here means a lot.”
But he warns that that route is not for everyone. “The college route suited me,” he says, “but may not suit everyone. There were things I had to learn, and experiences I enjoyed and grew from. A lot of players tend to play, practice and go professional directly, something I chose not to do. And I think that that route was best for me, it paid off, and it has made me who I am today.”
He may have become a source of admiration for many young talents in the game in India today, but who does he admire? “I am a huge fan of Del Potro,” but if there was one player that I could play against in history, it would be Andre Agassi. I grew up watching him, modelled my game on him, and he is my absolute idol.”
Former World No. 1 Agassi is unanimously considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time and one of the most powerful servers of his day. In his heyday, the American ace, whose return was regarded the stuff of legend, won eight singles Grand Slams over his illustrious career – including the US Open – twice.
Meanwhile, Del Potro, a former US Open winner, has made a mammoth comeback after recovering from injury, defeating a series of Top-10 players and winning Olympic silver this year.
Can Myneni, currently at 117th on the rankings and steadily moving upward, take his momentum and spirit into the tournament?
Today, he says, where he has reached is a result of immense hard work. “I worked long and hard, and put many hours to get to where I have today. And as I’ve always said, I won’t speak about the game – my racquet will do all the talking.”