At 28, Prajnesh Gunneswaran has extended been a journeyman, playing for knick-knacks in the lower echelons of the tennis tour. He has tried his opening on the Challenger tour though, but the adjoining he has come to a title was a finalist finish at the $50,000 Pune Open in 2016. He’d break that streak though, on Sunday, at the $150,000 clay-court Anning Open Challenger in China. Position 260 in the world, Prajnesh was in the final against Egypt’s Mohamed Safwat, and take just under two hours to come from a set down to win 5-7, 6-3, 6-1 to earn the largest title of his career.
The title gives him an priceless 125 ranking points that will potentially take him up to 176 in the ATP charts – his profession greatest so far is 213. But those were figures Prajnesh asserts he wasn’t concerned with. “I know I would be departing (up the ranks), but that didn’t cross my intelligence he says. What mattered to him was that he was in a final of the largest tournament of his career so far. It was all about getting the title, and the cool $21,600 prize money that came with it. “It was a final, and in a really large tournament,” Prajnesh says. “That was the bit that cause me some strength.I just had to locate a method to deal with it, and I did.”
It’s been a solid process for the Chennai-lad to get to this level. India’s Davis Cup captain Mahesh Bhupathi rates him: “He’s a hard worker and a good listener, and that’s a uncommon combination.” When the team meet in Nanjing earlier in April for the Davis Cup zonal tie against China, Prajnesh was put under a major work-out during the training sessions.
“We worked a lot on him coming up to the net and practicing his volleys, being more violent on court,” says team coach Zeeshan Ali. “He is concluded a lot of changes to his game in the last few months. He’s become a lot more reliable on the backhand, and much more confident coming up to the net..”
With the recently developed skills, coupled by the southpaw’s already lethal serve and forehand, he became an all-round package that played a vital role for the Indian team. Bring in as a alternative for Sumit Nagal to play the crucial deciding fifth rubber beside hosts China, Prajnesh pulled off a calm straight-sets win to secure the tie 3-2 and earn India a fifth successive shot at the World Group Playoff. “Winning a contest like that is a huge mental boost. You obtain the self-reliance to help you take on in the tour,” Ali adds.
Prajnesh has certainly ride that wave since then, making it to the quarterfinal of the Nanchang Challenger most recent week, before winning in Anning – that too under adverse conditions. Set at a height of 1900 metres, the bounce is top and the ball flies faster. “It was difficult and not much fun to play,” Prajnesh says. “You have to use pressurises balls here, if you hit hard it can go to the barrier so you have to find the choice you have to string your racquet tighter… so it is a lot different from what you’d normally play in.”
The situation didn’t suit the top seeds – world no 86 Evgeny Donskoy and top seed earlier world no 25 Vasek Pospisil were knocked out in the first and second rounds respectively. Prajnesh still was quick to adapt.
“I play a bunch of spin on the forehand so my game was already suited to these conditions and it gave me an edge,” he says. “I was pretty strong spiritually this week and that helped a lot. Mainly the semis, it was 6-0 and then break point down in the first game. If I let the first team of games go then that would have been done.” The tide has gradually begun turning in favour of Prajnesh, a once budding junior who was robbed off five years from the expert circuit due to knee injury.