Ramkumar and Prajnesh carry medal hopes in the absence of big names
The Asian Games has all along been a happy hunting ground for Indian tennis. Since the start of this millennium, the nation has won four medals on an average, including golds in each of the four editions.
A repeat performance at Jakarta, though, will require a significant step up. For the record, there will be fewer events — five compared to seven previously — with the men’s and women’s team competitions culled. India then will have to grapple with the non-availability of Sania Mirza and Yuki Bhambri.
Sania, a former World No. 1, who has two golds, three silvers and three bronzes from her four outings, is expecting her first child, and Bhambri, currently the country’s best in singles and winner of two bronzes at Incheon 2014, has prioritised the last Major of the year, the US Open.
It has to be said, however, that India’s chances have considerably brightened in the last few days.
With Japan’s Kei Nishikori and South Korea’s Hyeon Chung set to give the Games a miss, Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin will be the only top-100 player.
This is expected to open up the draw for Ramkumar Ramanathan (118) and Prajnesh Gunneswaran (161), both of whom are likely to be seeded in the top four.
The two have had fine seasons with each of them hitting a career-high ranking in the past two months. Ramkumar made the final of the ATP 250 event in Newport and Prajnesh has had a series of top-draw wins, including one over Canadian sensation Denis Shapovalov on grass.
“It’s the best thing any coach could have asked for,” Zeeshan Ali, captain of the contingent, told The Hindu.
“There is not a lot to separate our players from the rest. If Ram and Prajnesh can perform the way they have in the last few months, there is a high chance that both may get medals.”
But Zeeshan admitted to concerns regarding doubles with both the touted pairs having little to no experience of playing together.
At 45, Leander Paes continues to defy age, but the five-time Asian Games gold medallist has featured in only five matches in the last five months. There is still no clarity on who he will partner, Ramkumar or Sumit Nagal.
Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan, ranked 32 and 38 respectively, will be the top seeds, but they have combined as a team only at the institutional level for Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. Bopanna himself hasn’t competed since retiring from his second-round match at Wimbledon with a shoulder injury.
Among women, Ankita Raina (187) and Karman Kaur Thandi (197) may have had breakthrough years but the task at hand still remains tough. The presence of China’s Shuai Zhang (32) and defending champion Qiang Wang (53) will render the field more competitive.
Sania’s absence will be severely felt, especially when one considers the fact that the 31-year-old won the mixed doubles gold with Saketh Myneni in 2014 and carried Prarthana Thombare to a bronze in doubles.
“It is a big blow,” said Zeeshan. “But mixed doubles is only there at the Majors and I don’t think any pair would have played much together. A lot has to do with style and temperament. We feel it is better for Rohan to team up with Prarthana and Leander with Ankita.”
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