At 29 years of age, Prajnesh Gunneswaran is all set to make his main draw debut at a Grand Slam after coming through three rounds of qualifying at the Australian Open. He will be the sole Indian in the singles draw and the only the third Indian in five years to feature in the men’s singles main draw of a major, after Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri
He may have taken the long road to get here, but it is a mark of how improved and consistent the India No 1 has been in the last 10 months, as he climbed from 266 in April to a career-best of 104. He is ranked 112 in the world right now.
“I am really happy that I won and made it to the main draw of the Australian Open, first Grand Slam main draw can’t be happier. It’s something I have always dreamed of,” Prajnesh told Scroll.in after winning his final qualifying match.
The qualifying win is made sweeter by the fact that he famously (or infamously) missed playing in the French Open main draw as a lucky loser, after leaving Paris to play in a Challenger.
In Melbourne, he fought back from a set down to beat Japan’s Yosuke Watanuki 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4, showing the grit that has characterised his 2018 season, where he won his first two Challenger titles. He had won the first two qualifying matches in straight sets.
“I didn’t play my best match but did what was necessary and stayed very tough and I found a way to get through. I am looking forward to my first round now,” he added.
The Chennai-born player will take on American world number 39 Frances Tiafoe in the first round and if he crosses that hurdle, could run into fifth seed and Maharashtra Open champ Kevin Anderson.
Prajnesh, who is experimenting with a new, more power-based style this year, was not completely happy with his performance and said there are still areas he wants to work on.
“I’ve always hit the ball big, but from too far behind the baseline. I am working on that. I got here much later than most people do. I had the [game] to reach [this far], now just need to rest and recover for the main draw,” he added.
The Chennai southpaw, who lost five years of his career to injury, had a remarkable resurgence in 2018 in which he reached four Challenger finals and his ATP World Tour debut, beating Denis Shapovalov in his first match and winning an Asian Games bronze medal.
Although he didn’t start the 2019 season well, losing to 20-year-old Academy mate Michael Mmoh in his first match at the Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune, he had said that he is working on hitting flatter consistently to get through the big points.
“I know how to play flat but I never did because I know it is high risk. I was not interested in winning a point purely by hitting a winner, I was okay with the point by hitting maybe three or four extra balls, putting the opponent in an uncomfortable position, a little bit longer rallies… I feel this is the right way for me to go up,” he explained in Pune.
“I think this is what I want to do. Sure it cost me the match today but it is what it is,” he had said then.
The strategy seemed to have worked on the faster courts in Australia and it now we can find out if he can extend his remarkable surge to win a Grand Slam match or two.