Sitting in a corner of the players lounge at the Balewadi Tennis Stadium in Pune, Prajnesh Gunneswaran started to peel off the taping on his wrists. It was an arduous process as he scraped the remnants of the adhesive strapping that have been keeping his wrists intact. It’s a reminder of a battle wound he’s been carrying for the good chunk of the 2022 season, and even this year.

But with the conclusion of the ATP Challenger in Pune, the 33-year-old has had enough of playing with pain. He’s ready to embark on a brief hiatus from the sport to get healthy before renewing his pursuit of breaking back into the top 100.

“This plan of taking time off to be fit, I had already tried in December,” Prajnesh told Scroll. “I took about six weeks to rehab and do a long off-season. It did help me. I was able to play for a while, pain-free. I could feel my level was coming back and the intensity was good. The by-product of that was the Futures title in Kuwait (in January).”

“But unfortunately, after that the wrist started acting up again. From what I’ve been told, I started too early. What I was doing was working, but I just needed more time to be completely injury free.”

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Prajnesh, once ranked as high as 75 in the world, has not set a return date. He wants to make sure his wrists have healed to avoid the same struggles he endured in the 2022 season. Making it to the final of the ATP Challenger in Monterrey, Mexico coaxed him to continue struggling on the tour, hoping for bigger results and even entry into the qualification rounds of the French Open and Wimbledon. But it came at the cost of his injury being aggravated.

“It was not the best season. I had one good tournament in Mexico, but I haven’t had the results that I wanted, and I haven’t physically been in a place where I could get those kinds of results,” said Prajnesh, who dropped down to 431 in the ATP charts when the rankings were updated on March 20.

“I was trying to work on getting healthy, but unfortunately, I never took enough time off to make it happen. Plus there was also this feeling of wanting to play tournaments because my ranking was always high enough to play good tournaments, and I kept trying to do that.

“I guess I was kind of kidding myself into believing that (the wrists were) still good enough for me to perform. And the thing is, Mexico came for me at a time where I made those results and I felt that even with this I can perform. I was taking two weeks at a time and I felt that was enough to fix the injury, and that was a mistake.”

Confidence of coming back

Injury has long been a burden for the southpaw from Chennai. He lost five years due to knee injuries that weren’t accurately diagnosed. But once he did start playing regularly on the tour, his explosive style paved the way for him to break into the top 100 – which he did in 2019, his best year on tour. He beat then world No 18 Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round of the Indian Wells Masters that season, and went on to play in the main draw of all four Grand Slams that year.

There is confidence though that he can get back to playing competitively despite the break. After all, he’s not simply putting the racquet away and letting the wrists recover. It’s a measured approach where training and practice will continue.

“I will be hitting, but I’ll be measuring how much I hit. The goal is to eventually be hitting at the right tempo,” he added.

“So maybe I’ll start with that for 30 minutes and then work my way from there rather than playing slow, because playing slow is not going to get me anywhere.

“This time I don’t want to take a chance and say that I’ll be back in one month or so. Because then I’ll again try to rush. I’m assuming that in two or three months I’ll be completely fine, but by then I want to know that I’ll be able to play 4-5 days in a row with a certain intensity and maximum speed of hitting because that’s how I play the match. When I know that I can do that without it flaring up for two weeks in a row then I know I’m ready to go. If that happens in six weeks then great. If that happens in two and a half months, then so be it.”

Due to the injuries, he’s not had as much playing time as compared to the other players his age. But Prajnesh is looking to take a few steps back just to make sure the ones he’ll take forward will be the right ones, the right way.