Pune, Nov 18: Set to become India's number one singles player, Prajnesh Gunneswaran will eye his second consecutive title while Saketh Myneni, getting back to his best, will also look to end the season on a high when the KPIT-MSLTA Challenger begins here Monday (November 29).
The Bengaluru Open title triumph will push Prajnesh past both Yuki Bhambri (107) and Ramkumar Ramanathan (124) and closer to the top-100 bracket when new rankings are out on Monday.
Bhambri is out of action due to a nagging knee issue and is set to lose a few places on the ranking ladder. The Pune Challenger will be the first tournament where the Chennai man, who is now ranked 144, will start as India's best-ranked singles player.
Despite playing in completely different conditions from China, where he spent considerable time before coming to Bengaluru, Prajnesh dropped just one set on his way to the title. He has been in the form of his life this season and is targeting a strong finish.
"I am looking forward to using the momentum and confidence from the tournament in Bengaluru as well as the rest of my season to try and do well," Prajnesh told PTI. "I am playing my best tennis. I have had a good season so far and I am looking forward to finish it strong," the left-hander said.
He is drawn to meet Taipei's Tsun-Hua Yang in his opening round. Myneni seemed to have put his shoulder problem behind, playing solid tennis to get his best result of the season, a runner-up finish, in Bengaluru.
He has played fewer tournaments this season and had to work his way to the Challenger main draws through the qualifying events. He made full use of the wild card in Bengaluru and is playing in Pune main draw on special exemption (SE).
Players who finish as finalists are eligible for SE entry in the immediate tournaments and since five higher-ranked eligible players did not apply for direct entry in Pune, Myneni entered the main draw.
"We would have given him wild card, if he had not got the SE entry. We are doing these tournaments to help our players," said MSLTA secretary Sunder Iyer. Myneni acknowledged the importance of having tournaments at home.
"It was fantastic to have two Indians playing the final in Bengaluru. All the Indian players would love to have these events at home, it definitely helps us out," said Myneni. However, he said he was still not at his best.
"I still have a long way to go where I want to be but it is always good to get matches. The fitness part is getting better from last year. I am trying to get stronger and it takes time," he added.
Myneni and Prajnesh are drawn to meet in the semifinals, if they win three matches each. Myneni though has a tough first round as he is up against a fiery Sasi Kumar Mukund, who has made tremendous progress in the last few months and has been given a wild card.
Myneni had beaten him a month back in Ningbo Challenger but Mukund is a tough nut but to crack. Sumit Nagal, who has struggled badly this season, losing 11 first round matches on the ATP Challenger tour, has a tough test as he is up against top seed Radu Albot. In the bottom half of the draw, India's second highest ranked player Ramkumar will have to contend with the talented local player Arjun Kadhe.
Ramkumar, too, has had a tough season. He had his best result at Hall of Fame Open where he played his maiden final at an ATP 250 event but has struggled to go beyond the second rounds on the Challenger circuit. It remains to be seen if he can exploit the home advantage.