Indian No 1 Prajnesh Gunneswaran said he was pleased to have achieved a “milestone” in making his French Open main-draw debut, despite falling to a one-sided loss to Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien.
The 29-year-old played his first Grand Slam opening-round match earlier this year at the Australian Open, but this was the first time he had directly qualified for a Major as a result of his ranking.
It came a year since the incredible turn of events in Paris last year that saw him miss a potential Grand Slam debut. In 2018, he who could have made it to the main draw as lucky loser but had left the French capital to play a Challenger by the time his name came up. Marco Trungelliti then famously made a 1,000km road trip to enter the French Open main draw instead of him.
Despite a 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 defeat in this year’s match, Prajnesh was keen to look at the positives after struggling with a shoulder injury in the build-up to the tournament.
“It’s definitely a milestone,” he said. “I’ve worked a long time to get to this place and obviously I would’ve liked a different result today.
“But it’s not the end of the world and I just have to keep getting better, put my head down and keep working. That’s what got me this far and I’m hoping that it will continue.”
The world No 86, Prajnesh is the sixth-highest ranked male player in India’s history as the nation continues its search for a tennis superstar.
He says that it is difficult to reach the highest echelons of the sport from a country yet to really fall in love with tennis.
“It definitely is more difficult to break through [coming from India] when you don’t have as a good a system or as much competition,” he said.
“In my case I think the main reason I took this long was because I was injured for a long time so it took me four or five more years than it might have taken had I not had the injury.
“I think the kind of breakthrough we’re talking about would have to be some kind of superstar – not someone who is top 100 or 80 in the world, it’ll have to be someone who’s top 10. Someone like a [Japan’s Kei] Nishikori, but from India.”
Prajnesh will now turn his attentions to the grass-court campaign as the quest for ranking points continues, with a packed schedule potentially including appearances at Stuttgart, Queen’s, Antalya and Wimbledon.
All eyes back home will focus on India’s cricket stars in the next two months as they bid for a third World Cup title, and Gunneswaran thinks leading athletes from other sports can inspire him to improve his tennis career.
“It shows that we can be competitive at the highest level, in badminton also we’re really competitive. We have world champions so it shows we have what it takes to make it.”
With AFP inputs