All eyes on Anderson

Defending champion Simon will be a tough nut to crack

The loss of World No. 7 Marin Cilic to a knee injury might have been a false start no 250-level tournament, especially one in its sophomore year, would have hoped for.

But, it is perhaps reflective of the Tata Open Maharashtra’s heft that it can still show another top-10 player, Kevin Anderson, in its roster.

Pune can neither compete with Doha’s dollars nor with the geographical proximity to the Australian Open that Brisbane International boasts of. The high-altitude conditions can make shot-making difficult and the cold wintery nights are a far cry from the searing temperatures players would experience down under in two weeks’ time.

Top card

Yet, when it starts at the Mhalunge Balewadi Stadium here on Monday, it is expected to hold its own and Anderson’s role will be central to this. The South African, who was the finalist last year, returns in a bigger and better avatar.

Last year he travelled to India on the back of his first-ever appearance in a Major final at the 2017 US Open. Now, his halo is shining even brighter.

For, he proved at Wimbledon that his run in New York was no aberration.

His defeat of Roger Federer in a five-set marathon and his second Slam final sent him soaring to No. 5 in the world rankings, his highest till date. Subsequently he captured the Vienna ATP 500 title, his biggest thus far, and qualified for his maiden year-ending Masters.

His first big challenge this week is likely to come in his own half, which contains defending champion and third seed Gilles Simon. The Frenchman was ranked 89 last year but took out the top three seeds en route to the title.

Now up to 30, he is not one to be trifled with.

Lurking in the other half is the South Korean second seed Hyeon Chung, who, despite having an injury-ravaged year, notched up notable successes.

There were the defeats of Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open and his ascent to a career-high No. 19 in April.

For the Indians in the main draw — four in all after Saketh Myneni came through the qualifying — it will be yet another chance to take the step up.

Ramkumar Ramanathan, after starting the year ranked 148, has done well to stay in the vicinity (133), but would no doubt look to graduate further.

Prajnesh on his toes

All eyes will, however, be on Prajnesh Gunneswaran, the top-ranked Indian at 107, who will open proceedings on Centre Court on Monday.

“I need to continue doing what I am doing,” Prajnesh said. “Because, irrespective of the ranking, there is always one more level I can go. Actually I didn’t think of the No.1 ranking, because the India No. 1 is a nobody in an ATP 250. I still had to get a wild-card to enter.”

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