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Despite opening-round loss, ‘fitter’ Mukund counts gains from tour debut

PUNE: As Sasikumar Mukund has started rising through the ranks on ATP charts, a big concern of his has been fitness. However, he was happy with his physical conditioning in the first tour-level match he played, on Wednesday. Though Mukund went down 2-6, 6-7 (7) to Japan’s Taro Daniel in the opening round of Tata Open Maharashtra, at Pune’s Balewadi Stadium, he showed that he had it in him to trouble even the most solid players at this level.

“I don’t remember myself sustaining point after point like this,” said the 23-year-old after his maiden ATP Tour main-draw match. “I am not calling myself super fit. But this is the fittest I have been. During pre-season (in Vienna), I worked a lot on my fitness, moving better on the court and being stronger. I was happy with the fight I put up, considering that I am not used to playing on this stage. What let me down today was my tennis.”

With booming strokes on both wings, Mukund likes to let the ball rip. Even though he hit 28 winners on the day, he was undone by 48 unforced errors. On paper, the odds were stacked well against him before the start of the contest. His opponent, Daniel, has been a former top-70 player, and is currently ranked 102. The Japanese was given a late start in the tournament as he’d won a Challenger event in Burnie (Australia) without dropping a set, on Sunday. Mukund, meanwhile, entered the event courtesy a wildcard and is yet to break into the top-200 (currently ranked 263). He is four years younger than Daniel.

Having started the match with a love hold, Mukund let it slip late in the set as he dropped two service games. At one point, he lost 10 points on the trot. But he picked up his level in the second set and tried to take control of the point with his aggressive forehand. Even Daniel, who is an experienced counter-puncher, struggled to keep the ball in play. The Indian fought back from 5-6 down in the second set, attacking Daniel’s returns in the next game to get the break and push the set into a tie-break.  “I played well in the second set. I have to learn and play the whole match at that intensity and level. Even though I was up and down the whole match, I almost had him.”

Despite the admirable effort though, Mukund becomes the fourth Indian to bow out in the first round of Pune Open. It was for the first time that five Indians had made the main draw of an ATP event, but only Prajnesh Gunneswaran has managed to get past the opening hurdle. Gunneswaran will take on fourth seed Soonwoo Kwon of Korea on Thursday.Ram-Raja pair advances Indian pair of Ramkumar Ramanathan and Purav Raja made their way into the doubles quarterfinal with a  hard-fought 7-6 (8-6), 6-3 victory over compatriot Sumit Nagal and Egor Gerasimov of Belarus. Nagal, who was included in the doubles main draw following withdrawal of German pair Peter Gojowczyk-Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, could not capitalise on the opportunity.

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