Tennis: Prajnesh emerges country’s top-ranked singles player

Kolkata: After achieving a career-best ATP ranking of 102, Prajnesh Gunneswaran Tuesday said he would look to make the most of his good run over the past year and help India do well against Italy in the Davis Cup world group qualifiers.

Prajnesh, who is the country’s highest-ranked singles player, will spearhead India’s challenge against the Italians led by World No. 18 Marco Cecchinato. The 29-year-old, who started 2018 as World No. 243 and ended it as No. 104, won two ATP Challenger titles and also upset now World No. 27 Denis Shapovalov on grass at the Stuttgart Open, last year. He also won the men’s singles bronze at the Jakarta Asian Games.

I’ve had enough tournaments over the last couple of years and I’ve had a very good run in the last six months. So, I’m looking forward to using the momentum and trying to do as well as possible, Prajnesh told reporters after India’s practice session at the Calcutta South Club.

The Chennai-based lad struggled early on in his career with stress fractures in his knees, but has made a remarkable turnaround, achieving a career-high ranking recently. “The fact is that I was injured and I had already been, I wasn’t too bad before that as well. So, I just think it was unfortunate that I could not get to this level earlier,” Prajnesh said when asked about his being a late bloomer.

The southpaw also made light of the altered Davis Cup format where he now has to play three-setters as opposed to five-setters. “It doesn’t really matter to me, to be honest. It’s a bit more physical if we play five sets and in best of three, anything can happen. It’s in two days and not three days, so I don’t really see too much of a difference.”

Coach Zeeshan Ali said the practice courts in South Club are slower than what they expected and that the bounce is low. India was previously practising at Calcutta Gymkhana and since Monday, it has started training at the venue.

Grass is different in Gymkhana and over here, it’s on the slower side. The whole idea is not so much about the fast or slow courts. It’s more about how the boys settle in, in terms of movement, in terms of the mental approach. It’s completely different playing on grass, said Ali.

“The more you practice on grass, the more confidence you get. That was the idea of getting in earlier, to acclimatise and to play on a surface which none of these players have played too much on,” said Ali.