The Chennai Open, as many past and present players say, is more of an education to young Indian players hoping to make a mark. A sizeable crowd, with lots of expectant faces and a top-100 player across the net, these can either bog one down or egg one on.
On Monday, when India’s Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, India’s third best singles player and ranked 314 in the world, crashed out to Czech Republic’s Jiri Vesely (No. 85) 7-5, 6-2, he discovered a part of the education but admirably, was not a bit intimidated.
“I played a good first set,” said Jeevan after the match. “My aim was not to give too many free points. It was a good experience, lots of positives to take home. The atmosphere, the crowd, it sort of soothed my nerves.”
It was a match of firsts for both players — Jeevan playing his first tour match and Vesely looking for his first victory. The latter started the match tentatively. He trailed 1-4 at one stage but quickly found his rhythm. Jeevan’s reluctance to trust his backhand meant that he had to run-around the ball to convert routine backhands to forehands. The time that it gave his opponent to get into position and Jeevan’s lack of firepower handed Vesely the crucial advantage.
“At the start I wanted to play to my strengths,” said Jeevan. “I wanted to play a lot of my favourite shots. I do think I have a good run-around forehand. But I can’t keep carrying on with it forever. The day I start using the two-handed backhand more often, that will be the first tactical switch towards getting better.”
To be fair, Jeevan kept up with Vesely in the initial parts of the second set too until Vesely broke to 3-2. An otherwise powerful server, the 20-year-old started missing a string of first serves. But crucially, as before, it was not for long. Down a break point at 3-2, two excellent first serves restored his confidence. Jeevan’s inability to sustain the pressure for long and Vesely’s ability to win back the initiative in quick time ultimately proved to be the difference.
Vesely is a natural mover on clay, as his record suggests — five challenger finals on the surface. He would have no doubt been encouraged by his first tour victory on a hard court, albeit a slow one. It does seem pretty impressive for someone who started the year on the Futures circuit and by his own admission hoped to do well in the Challenger Tour come the year end.
Earlier in the first main draw doubles match of this year’s edition, wild cards Karen Khachanov of Russia and Saketh Myneni of India put it past the Spanish duo of Pablo Carreno Busta and Alberto Ramos 6-1, 7-6 (7). The match looked well set to go into the deciding set when Busta and Ramos led 5-1 in the tie-break only to then lose it nine points to seven.
First round: Singles: Yen-Hsun Lu (Tpe) bt Tim Smyczek (USA) 6-4, 6-2; Jiri Vesely (Cze) bt Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan (Ind) 7-5, 6-2; 5-Vasek Pospisil (Can) bt Kyle Edmund (GBR) 6-3, 7-5; Dudi Sela (Isr) bt Lukas Lacko (Svk) 6-4, 6-2.
Doubles: Karen Khachanov (Rus) & Saketh Myneni (Ind) bt Pablo Carreno Busta (Esp) & Alberto Ramos (Esp) 6-1, 7-6 (7).