The last time Saketh Myneni and Mikhail Youzhny played each other, it ended with one of them heading into a six-month layoff and dropping close to 300 spots in rankings.
Of course, Saketh will make light of it and tell you that if it's injuries that we're talking about, it's little surprise that it has got to do with him.
On Wednesday though, he pulled off one of the biggest wins of his career, stunning top seed Youzhny, a former world No. 8 now dawdling at the wrong end of his thirties and just outside the top 100, under two hours in the pre-quarterfinals of the $125,000 Challenger tournament in Astana, Kazakhstan. World No. 357 Saketh, who fought back to win 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, says the result will help bump up his confidence in a career divided between injuries and comebacks. "You know, at this stage each match is important for me," the 30-year-old from Vizag tells ESPN. "Today I just wanted to compete and play the best I can, and I was really happy with my progress towards the end of the second set. I'm still on the road to getting fitter and trying to stay injury free."
"I missed so many tournaments over the past year and a half. Team events and the Davis Cup have been particularly tough to lose out on." Saketh Myneni
Injuries have been a recurrent theme of Saketh's career and over the past three years alone he has lost over 12 months to it. In September 2016 he touched a career-high 137th rank in singles. It was also the year he played the qualifying rounds of all four Grand Slams and, for the first time in his career, made the main draw of the US Open. But a foot injury sustained during his Chennai Open first-round defeat to Youzhny in January 2017 botched up his Australian Open outing and kept him off court until July. He nosedived in rankings, dropping as low as No. 915 in October 2017, and has been out of contention for national duty, both for Davis Cup ties and next month's Asian Games. At the 2014 Incheon Games, he'd won gold and silver medals in the mixed and men's doubles, respectively.
Crawling his way back to intensity tennis after extended, invisible periods in the wilderness is a familiar drill and Saketh, a product of the American collegiate circuit, has only gotten too used to it. "It was a tough year with injuries and getting back to be healthy," he says. "Training and playing with good breaks is crucial. I got to learn a lot about my body during rehab and off-season training."
In April this year Saketh won the $25,000 ITF Futures Men's title in Karshi, Uzbekistan and a semi-final run at the Fergana Challenger in June saw him jump 85 places to be ranked 362. Ranking fortunes aside, there's hypermobility syndrome -- or pliable, stretchy connective tissue that leads to excessive movement of body joints beyond the normal range -- to deal with. It also means that his joints are more vulnerable to injury and can take longer to heal. "It's something I have that's both good and bad," he says. "It's tough to control during matches and you have to work on stability constantly to get better."
Holding a double major in economics and finance, Saketh has learnt more from his days and months off the court than he has on it, and 2017 may have been his harshest lesson. "I missed so many tournaments over the past year and a half," he says. "Team events and the Davis Cup have been particularly tough to lose out on. But never did I think of quitting the sport or giving up my career in singles. I've tried to look at the bright side. Injuries, as I see it, gave me more time to spend with family."
And he has also made peace with straddling ice packs.
"Ice is an everyday buddy," he says. "My best friend."