Grief-stricken Prajnesh, In-form Nagal to Lead Home Challenge in Pune Challenger

Pune, Nov 10 (PTI) Taking in his stride a massive personal tragedy, a gritty Prajnesh Gunneswaran will lead the home challenge along with in-form Sumit Nagal at KPIT-MSLTA Challenger, where an unprecedented 21 singles players from India will compete from Monday.

The USD 54,160 hard court event is only the second ATP Challenger that India is hosting this season after the Chennai Open, where nine Indians had competed.

With the draw size increasing after drastic changes made to the ATP Challenger circuit last year, as many as 19 Indians are featuring in the singles main draw and two more will join them from the qualifying. Having more than 20 players in the singles main draw is a record for any host nation.

World number 94 Prajnesh, whose father passed away on Saturday, has decided to compete in one of the longest-running Challengers in the country.

"I am playing. My father would want me to play. I will honour his wish. It's the last tournament of the season, I will finish," Prajnesh, who will be the top seed, told PTI from Chennai.

The current season till date has gone without a title win for him, with a runner-up finish at Anning being his best result. The 29-year-old left-hander is one of the most calm-headed Indian players, who is mentally very strong.

Knowing him, it is not difficult to predict that he will pour his heart out to win this Challenger after losing his father S G Prabhakaran, who was behind the revival of his career.

It was Prabhakaran, who kept encouraging him to play when knee stress fractures had forced him out of action for five long years.

He lost precious years on the circuit but Prabhakaran kept him going, by saying give it one last shot. And he did succeed and went on to establish himself as India's number one singles player.

Along with him, young Nagal, who has taken giant strides this season, will be the player to watch out for. The 129-ranked Nagal is drawn to meet another top Indian, Ramkumar Ramanathan in the quarterfinals.

Both of them have got first round byes and have two matches each before we see an all-Indian quarterfinal.

Sasi Kumar Mukund is very promising but has not had a great 2019 as he made just one final in Baotou in August. He is also an exciting prospect for India and is expected to be in India's Davis Cup squad for the Pakistan tie.

Saketh Myneni is another Indian player to get a seeding and a bye into the second round. He and Mukund are drawn to meet in the pre-quarterfinals in the bottom-half.

It will also be an opportunity to do well for local boy Arjun Kadhe and the 2018 national champion Siddharth Vishwakarma, who did not rise as expected after winning the Fenesta Open with his fierce hitting ability.

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