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Maha Open Challenger: Poonacha, Mukund advance to second round

Rank outsider NIki Poonacha served 21 aces and sustained a high quality game for two hours and 38 minutes to beat Goncalo Oliveira of Portugal 6-3, 6-7(2), 7-6(3) in the first round of the $133,250 Maha Open Challenger tennis tournament at the Balewadi Stadium on Monday.

Ranked a modest 793, the 28-year-old Niki who had won the singles rubber against Pakistan in the recent Davis Cup tie in Islamabad, came up with the thunderbolts whenever required to tame the 216th-ranked Oliveira.

Coached by Borna Bikic, who travels with him on the Tour, Niki showed that he had sharpened his all-court game, even though he has been more focused in doubles.

“I was happy to maintain the high intensity game right through the match and pull it off, even though I had chances to close it out earlier”, said Poonacha.

As if this was not enough to warm the hearts of the Indian fans, another Davis Cupper, the 437th ranked S. Mukund played one of the best matches of his career as he outclassed the 202nd-ranked eighth-seed, Federico Gaio of Italy 6-3, 6-2, in less than an hour.

Serving a dozen aces, two of them in the last game, when he held serve at love, spanking two other put aways to close out the match, the 27-year-old Mukund converted three of five break points for the clinical execution. More impressive was the fact that Mukund did not let the Italian see one break point in the whole match.

While NIki will wait for the winner of the match between top seed Sumit Nagal and Yu Hsiou Hsu of Chinese Taipei, Mukund who had made the quarterfinals of the Chennai Challenger, will play the winner of the match between Coleman Wong of Hong Kong and qualifier Felix Gill of Britain.

The fourth Indian in the singles field, Ramkumar Ramanathan will challenge the champion of the Bengaluru Challenger, Stefano Napolitano of Italy on Tuesday.

RESULTS

Singles (first round): Niki Poonacha bt Goncalo Oliveira (Por) 6-3, 6-7(2), 7-6(3); Tristan Schoolkate (Aus) bt Geoffrey Blancaneaux (Fra) 7-6(7), 6-3; Dalibor Svrcina (Cze) bt Philip Sekulic (Aus) 6-4, 6-3; S Mukund bt Federico Gaio (Ita) 6-3, 6-2;

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