2019 marked a change in the guard for tennis in India, as new faces emerged at the forefront of the sport in the nation.
The absence of Sania Mirza, who is on maternity leave, coupled with the lack of headline-grabbing performances from veterans Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna could make it seem like it was a quiet year for Indian tennis players. However, that is far from the truth.
Players like Sumit Nagal, Ankita Raina and Prajnesh Gunneswaran enjoyed a terrific season and made giant strides in 2019.
We take a more in-depth look at their achievements in the past 12 months.
Nagal sets semis record and battles Federer
No Indian tennis player enjoyed a better year than 22-year-old Nagal. He started the year ranked 361 in the world and is ending it on the doorstep of the top 100.
He did not start the year as well as he would have hoped, failing to make it to the quarterfinal in each of his first eight tournament appearances in 2019, but a fruitful run in the Tallahassee Tennis Challenger in April got him right back on track.
He made it to the semifinals in five of his next eight tournament appearances, and with his confidence brimming, he headed to New York to participate in the qualifiers of the US Open. Nagal made light work of his first two qualifying matches, winning them both in straight sets.
However, the third qualifying match wasn’t quite as straightforward, as Nagal found himself a set down against Brazil’s Joao Menezes. But the Indian rallied back to win the next two and enter the main draw, where he would face the great Roger Federer.
While almost everyone at the Arthur Ashe Stadium expected an exhibition from the Swiss maestro, the young and fearless Indian had a surprise in store for all those in attendance, including Federer.
Against all odds, Nagal took the first set 6-4, earning a rapturous cheer from a small section of Indians in the crowd. The fairytale didn’t last long, as Federer found his footing and won the next three sets comfortably to advance to the second round, but he did praise Nagal for his spirited effort and predicted a bright future for the young Indian tennis star.
Nagal finished the year with three more semifinal appearances, making him the only man on the ATP Tour to clock eight tournament semis, and his victory in the Buenos Aires Challenger made him the first Indian to win a singles title on South American soil.
Raina rises to the summit of Indian women’s rankings
With Mirza out of action, Ankita Raina seized her opportunities in 2019 and became the top-ranked Indian women tennis player in both the singles as well as doubles category.
After losing in the qualifiers at the Australian Open, Raina won her first title of the year in the ITF Tournament in Singapore, dropping just a solitary set on her way to victory. She reached the final of the ITF event in Turkey, but was beaten in the final by Russia’s Vitalia Diatchenko.
She continued to string some excellent results at the ITF level, reaching the semifinal in China and the quarterfinal in Great Britain. She finished the year by winning another ITF singles’ title in Solapur, India, capping off what has been a solid year for the 26-year-old.
In the doubles circuit, Raina, alongside Bibiane Schoofs, reached the final of the ITF Tournament in Germany. She reached the ITF Tournament women’s doubles final in Great Britain as well as China alongside Naiktha Bains and Rosalie Van Der Hoek respectively but was unable to get over that final hurdle.
Things finally changed in Solapur, where she won her only doubles title of the year with partner Ulrikke Eikeri of Norway and finished the year as the top-ranked Indian women’s tennis player.
Gunneswaran’s peculiar year
India’s top-ranked men’s singles player Prajnesh Gunneswaran had a rather interesting year in 2019. The 30-year-old was the only Indian to make it to the first round of every Grand Slam event in the singles category but failed to go beyond that mark in all four events.
He reached the semi-finals of the Chennai Open and Bangkok Open and made it to the final of the Kunming Open in China. He struggled to recreate that form in the subsequent months but finished the year strong, reaching the quarterfinals of the Jinan Open and the Yinzhou Tennis Men’s Tennis Challenger in China as well as the semifinals at the Shanghai Masters.
While Gunneswaran can hardly be categorised as a rising talent, the 30-year-old continues to peak late in his career and will be targeting another strong campaign in 2020.
With the bright futures that these players are enroute to seeking, coupled with the tantalising prospect of Sania Mirza getting back into the thick of the action, there’s a lot to look forward to when it comes to Indian tennis.