After 'happy' 2023, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan sets 'realistic' Slam and ranking goals for 2024 with Kadhe as new partner
Jeevan spoke about his 3rd Tennis Premier League appearance and impact of the league on Indian tennis before touching upon crucial aspects of his 2023 season.
Sometimes, small steps towards bigger goals with consistent efforts generating desired results through a period of time can sum up to a "happy" achievement. And that is precisely how Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan put it when asked about his run in 2023. It was the year when he made his first ATP doubles final in five years at the TATA Open Maharashtra before making three straight main draw appearances in a Grand Slam alongside partner Sriram Balaji as alternates. Two weeks after their dream run in Pune at the start of the year, the Indian duo, who were ninth on the list of alternates, emerged as winners in their tough opening tie against 2022 French Open finalists, Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Austin Krajicek at the Australian Open. It was Jeevan's first ever Grand Slam win since making his debut at the 2017 Wimbledon. The pair, named 'BalaJee' by the Indian tennis community, later appeared at Roland Garros and Wimbledon as well, ending Jeevan's four-year wait for a main draw match at these two events.
Speaking exclusively to Hindustan Times Digital, ahead of his third appearance at the Tennis Premier League, which will kick off at Pune's Balewadi Stadium from December 12 onwards, the 35-year-old spoke about the league and its impact on Indian tennis before touching upon the crucial aspects of his 2023 season. Jeevan also revealed his "realistic" goals for the next season where he will have a fresh partner in Arjun Kadhe. Here are excerpts...
Q) This will be your third season of Tennis Premier League. How excited are you?
I'm very excited to be a part of it again. It's been a lot of fun and Kunal (Thakur) and Mrunal (Jain), the founders, always do a good job.
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Q) These tennis leagues like TPL that happen in India, do you see them having an impact on Indian tennis directly?
Definitely. It gives a lot of opportunity to youngsters to witness some really good tennis under pressure and it also helps grow the sport and popularity of it in and around India.
Q) Coming to your performance, how would you assess 2023?
I was happy with the way my season finished. I was able to finish inside the top 100 (in ATP doubles ranking), so I'm happy about that as well. And yes, I'm very excited to see what's going to happen with my career next year with the goals being quite similar, getting into Grand Slams and winning matches.
Q) You made three of the four Grand Slams as alternates in 2023. Even at Tata Open, where you reached the final, after entering the main draw as alternates. If you could talk about it. How do you prepare for it given that you and Sriram Balaji were both pretty behind on the alternate list for Australian Open, and even Wimbledon?
I think it's just being in the right spot at the right time, practicing and just hoping to get an opportunity to play. It was a very memorable experience in Tata Open because we were waiting and practicing a bunch and as soon as we got in, we made the most of the opportunities. And yes, it's a process. It's not easy to get into these Grand Slam main draw events, but sometimes fortune favours your way and you get a chance to sneak into a big event and it's always nice to win matches when you get chances like that.
Well, if you're within a certain number of spots out of which we were in all the Grand Slams, just three or four spots out, they give you accreditation so that you can come on site and you can practice and use the locker room and prepare. So there's no reason not to do that when you're very close to getting into the Grand Slam. And that's kind of how you prepare for most events. Of course, you're just not sure if you're in the draw when you're an alternate, but you still prepare and you hang around.
It's a lot of waiting because like you said, it could be very last minute where a team pulls out, but then you have to be present and be alert and wait for an opportunity if it does come. And if not, then utilise it as a practice week and continue from there for the next tournament.
Q) Through your journey of making it into three of the Grand Slam main draws this year, you had your good friend Balaji as your partner. If you could talk about that pairing?
Balaji and I, we've been very good friends for a long time, so I think that helps when you're waiting around in such big events. I think we had a really good run and did well to break into the top 100. We were a very good team last year as well.
Q) But post mid-August we haven't seen that pairing. You have been with few others before playing a couple of Challengers with Vijay Prasanth. Is that something you are looking to explore in the next season?
No, I'll be playing with Arjun Kade next year. The thought behind this pairing is simply down to the schedule lined up. Arjun and I are definitely excited to play together. He's got a big serve and I've never really actually played with him on the circuit before. I think there is a good potential to start a partnership with Arjun
Q) You have played in Challengers, ATP Tours and at Grand Slam levels this year. If you could talk about how challenging it is adapting to the different difficulty levels?
All these tournaments come with their own set of difficulties to overcome. But I think the format is quite fast and tricky in doubles, even on the tour. You could have a great win one day and might incur a poor loss the next day, but staying consistent and putting yourself in a position where you are close to getting results, that's all we can really do and practice as much as possible so that we are sharp enough to get good results when the opportunities present themselves. I think that's pretty much all that we can control as players.
Q) Last year around this time you were gearing up for Maharashtra Open. This time there are no ATP events in India. What has been the sentiment among the players?
I think it doesn't change a whole lot because we spend around 30 weeks anyway on the road. It's always nice to have tournaments at home, but I do believe that there's going to be 3-4 challenger events in India in February. Of course it's sad that we don't have a big event like the Tata Open on home soil, but there are enough events in India, especially the Challengers. I think we are all conditioned to train and give our best regardless of where the tournament is.
Q) You had mentioned in an interview last year you had an off-season session with Rohan Bopanna as part of that doubles dream project. Any such plans for this year?
I think we'll be doing that again. Through the doubles dream project, there's a training camp being held in Bangalore. KSLTA has been nice enough to offer their grounds for all the top doubles players in India to practice together. I am quite excited about that. As soon as the Tennis Premier League is done, we would all be going to Bangalore and the top guys would be training together until a bit past Christmas, and then everyone would kind of move on to whichever tournaments they need to.
The primary aspect of the the project is that it helps us with getting a physio on board and when you spend 30 weeks on the road, your body takes a lot of wear and tear. These expenses add up and I'm pretty sure that it takes a burden off us to know that we have somebody with us like a physio to take care of our body. And I think Mr. Kishore Patil has helped out a lot and Rohan has kind of administered the role designation for people very well. It's really nice to see something like this for the doubles players in India, and I would really love to see the top singles guys also get some help like this because India has definitely been struggling with their singles performances. Apart from Sumit Nagal, I don't think there's a player right now playing at the Grand Slam level and I know India is capable of a lot better than that, but there's a whole lot of different things which need to fall into place in order to make that happen. It would be very nice to see funding and support like that for the singles players as well.
Q) Your goals for 2024
First is always to stay healthy. I want to play a full season without getting injured as much as possible. Second, I would want to finish the year inside the top 60 or 70, so that I'm consistently in the Grand Slams. And that is a very realistic goal, I would think, because finishing at 94 this year, it's great because I had started the year around 120. So the way I look at that, it would be very doable to try to finish the year a few spots ahead and be securely into the Grand Slams. And then once you're there, you never know what happens. So I would say a comfortable position inside the top 100 is what my goal would be for next season.