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2021 Australian Open qualifiers: Four Indian players out to seal a berth in the main draw

Sumit Nagal has already received a wildcard to the main draw

By Deepti Patwardhan ·

The Australian Open, which will begin on February 8, will kick-off the Grand Slam season for 2021. India’s Sumit Nagal has already been given a wildcard into the main draw for the major. But more Indian players will be hoping to make it to the Australian Open through qualifying.

Due to the pandemic, the women’s qualifying event will be held in Dubai from January 10-13 while the men’s qualifiers will be held in Doha simultaneously.

Here are the four Indian players who will be competing in the Australian Open qualifiers:

Ankita Raina in action

Ankita Raina

Age: 27
Singles ranking: 180

India’s No 1 women's singles player Ankita Raina is hoping to make her Grand Slam debut at the Australian Open. This will be her sixth attempt at qualifying for a major.

The hard-working Raina had made a solid start to 2020, winning a double at the ITF 25,000 event in Nonthaburi, Thailand in January and followed it up with a singles title at the ITF 25,000 event in Jodhpur, India. She was part of the team that guided India to the Fed Cup World Group Playoffs for the very first time.

But the Ahmedabad-born player’s momentum was interrupted as Coronavirus forced tennis into a six-month hiatus. She finished the year by winning the doubles title at the ITF event in Dubai, which lifted her to a career-high of 117 in doubles. Raina will hope to carry that confidence into 2021 and crack the Grand Slam puzzle.

Karman Kaur Thandi in action (Photo: Twitter/@KarmanThandi )

Karman Kaur Thandi

Age: 22
Singles ranking: 626

Karman Kaur Thandi will enter the Australian Open qualifying with a protected ranking of 208. The statuesque player, with a mean forehand, is one of the most exciting talents in Indian women’s tennis since Sania Mirza.

In 2018, she had become the first Indian woman since Mirza to win a WTA-level match when she defeated Lu Jiajing at the Jiangxi International Women's Tennis Open. But for the past two seasons, Thandi has been struggling with a niggling shoulder injury.

The Delhi-based Thandi, who has one ITF singles and one WTA 125,000 title to her name, played only one match in 2020. She will be hoping for better luck and health in the new year as she gears up to participate in the Australian Open qualifying.

Prajnesh Gunneswaran has qualified for the Australian Open in the last two years

Prajnesh Gunneswaran

Age: 31
Singles ranking: 129

Gunneswaran has been there and done that. The 31-year-old entered the Australian Open the last two years through qualifying and looks good to make it three in a row.

Though he has competed in the main draw of each of the four Grand Slams, he has not yet got past the first round. The southpaw has all the ingredients to be a Grand Slam regular: a cracking serve, powerful groundstrokes and the physicality to compete on the big stage.

Gunneswaran reached back-to-back ATP Challenger finals in November to close the season.

Ramkumar Ramanathan is one of the fittest players on Tour

Ramkumar Ramanathan

Age: 26
Singles ranking: 190

Ramkumar Ramanathan hasn’t been able to qualify for a Grand Slam in the past 16 attempts. But it hasn’t been for the lack of effort. He is one of the fittest Indian players on the Tour and despite the six-month lockdown, managed to play 18 tournaments in 2020.

His best result came at the ATP Challenger event in Eckental, Germany in November, where he made it to the final before going down 6-4, 6-4 to seventh seed Seb Korda.

He has been training at the Sanchez Casal Academy Florida and has been keeping himself match-fit by playing in UTR events.

Though his serve and his forehand are his biggest weapons, Ramkumar has an all-court game to surprise higher-ranked players. But he hasn’t quite been able to piece it together at a Grand Slam qualifying event.