Tennis: Prajnesh Gunneswaran breaks into top 100 for the first time

Prajnesh Gunneswaran

Chennai: Prajnesh Gunneswaran stormed his way into the top-100 for the first time in his career Monday after the new ATP World Rankings were announced.

With a ranking of 242 at the start of the year, the 28-year old left-hander, whose initial days of his career were plagued by injuries, finally found his touch and sharpened his game in the last 12 months, producing his best-ever performance that saw him win two challenger titles and an Asian Games bronze medal.

He also made his first appearance in an ATP World Tour event in Stuttgart Open and made his debut in a Grand Slam event in the Australian Open this year. All these helped him climb up the ranking ladder and reach his career-best 97, thereby becoming the third Indian in the past decade to do so after Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri.

Till April last year, Prajnesh struggled to get going in tournaments. Starting the year at 242, at one point of time, he went to 266. He registered his first victory of the year in the ITF India Futures in Chandigarh by defeating Ly Hoang Nam of Vietnam in the final in straight sets.

Towards the fag-end of April, after having reached the quarter-finals of Nanchang Challenger event, he clinched his first-ever singles title victory in a challenger event by winning the Kunming Open in Anning.

The victory pushed him inside the top 200 mark. Soon after that he also played in the Challengers of the French Open where he went down in the third round to Eias Ymer.

Prajnesh gained qualification for the Stuttgart Open later in June, which was his first ATP World Tour event. He stunned World No. 32 Denis Shapovalov in the first round before going down to Guido Pella in the second round. In October, Prajnesh came close to winning his second Challenger title where he went down to Italy’s Tomas Fabbiano in the final.

He then came inside the top-150 and with a ranking of 144, he entered the Bangalore Open Challenger event. In an all-Indian final, he beat Saketh Myneni to clinch his second Challenger title of the year. The victory catapulted him to be World No. 110 that made him the highest ranked Indian.

During an interview at the time, Prajnesh admitted that the year has been his best so far. “My goal would be to get into the top 50 within the next year,” he said. He then went down fighting to Eias Ymer in the final of the Pune Open and moved up six more places to 104th and ended the year on a high.

At the start of 2019, Prajnesh made his first-ever Grand Slam appearance in Australian Open. He lost to France’s Tiiafoe in the first round. Then he had a disappointing outing in the Davis Cup by losing his matches.

He came back to the Chennai Open Challenger as the top-seed and suffered a semi-final defeat that has now put him inside the top-100 for the first time. If Prajnesh manages to maintain the ranking, then he has a chance to enter the main draw of a Grand Slam.

Prajnesh, training in Germany, also said recently that it was his tweak in the fitness regime that has worked in his favour. “I have been working more on my fitness than I used to because from now on I need to start preparing to be able to play five sets as that could be a possibility pretty soon.”

Vijay Amritraj, the former tennis ace, also recently while speaking to the press after the Chennai Open, praised Prajnesh’s good run. “I loved the fact that he gave his everything and worked hard. He had a good week in Australia, played the Davis Cup for experience and faced the pressure of playing in his home here in Chennai Open. Now, I hope that he stays healthy and has a good six months.”

Aaditya Anand M