Melbourne: Outlining his growth as a player, a consistent Prajnesh Gunneswaran sealed his maiden appearance in the main draw of a Grand Slam by qualifying for the Australian Open men’s singles event here Friday. The 29-year-old from Chennai came from behind to beat Japan’s Yosuke Watanuki 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4 in the third and final qualifying round.
Prajnesh is only third Indian in five years to feature in the men’s singles main draw of a Grand Slam, the other being Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri. While Yuki played in all four Grand Slams in 2018 before a knee injury cut short his season, Somdev, who is now retired, last played at the 2013 US Open. “It’s obviously huge for me. First time ever in a Grand Slam main draw, something I have always dreamt of. I am really happy, don’t have words to describe it but it’s big deal for sure,” Prajnesh told PTI. “I am very proud that I stuck to it and put in all this work. I got here much later than most people do. I had the tennis to reach here, now just need to rest and recover for the main draw,” Prajnesh added.
The Indian has secured himself AUD 40,000 (Rs 20 lakh) for winning three qualifying rounds and at least AUD 75,000 more (approx Rs 38 lakh) as main draw prize purse, which will take care of his major expenses in the 2019 season. Talking about the match, Prajnesh said, “It was no where near as good as I wanted it to be. “I stayed tough mentally and fought really hard. I did not really play too flat, I felt a lot of pressure from the beginning to the end. In between I played very defensive, attacked here and there. It was more a battle of nerves.” “It was very close, the key was that I stayed tough throughout and I put a lot on the opponent and I did everything possible to find a way to win.”
Prajnesh will open his campaign American world number 39 Frances Tiafoe and if he crosses the opening hurdle, he is likely to face fifth seed and Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson. “Let’s see how it goes. It will be a tough match, I have to play well.” The Chennai southpaw enjoyed a successful 2018 in which he reached four Challenger-level finals and won two titles.