Prajnesh Gunneswaran, the only Indian to make it to the top 100 of the ATP rankings for a while, saw his breakthrough 2019 season end with a tough three-set loss on Thursday at the KPIT-MSLTA Challenger in Pune.
The top seed was beaten by Tim van Rijthoven of Netherlands 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in a gruelling three-setter that lasted two hours and 10 minutes. The 2018 runner-up was unable to close out the match despite six break points in the decider.
Prajnesh won’t be the India No 1 for long as the world No 95 is set to slide down the charts after his third-round loss. The current live ranking shows him at 114 but he could drop further is the next few weeks and will have a rough start to the year in 2020. However, the very fact that the 30-year-old was competing in Pune was commendable given his father’s death last week and an injured wrist due to tendonitis.
But even as his challenging season ended on a low note, it’s important to remember that it has been a remarkably successful season overall. Prajnesh made rapid strides for an Indian singles tennis player, from starting as world No 110 and qualifying for the Australian Open to reaching a career-high of 75 and getting direct entry into the next three Grand Slams.
When asked about his season, Prajnesh was in an introspective mood.
“It’s been a good year and bad, a combination purely from a professional standpoint,” Prajnesh. “I think 2018 April onwards, I was really firing and playing well. I do think I’m a better tennis player today than I was in 2018 even when I was getting really good results. Even at Indian Wells and Miami [back-to-backs Masters appearances and biggest career win], purely from a tennis point of view, I think I am better than I was then,” he asserted.
Prajnesh added: “But obviously a lot of things have to come together to get those results, from being sharp and having the right conditioning and a little bit of luck... But at the end of the day, I believe that if my physical abilities are good enough, if I’m fit, and if I keep putting myself in the tournaments, I will get chances because I think I’ve definitely grown up as a tennis player.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of work in every department. Improvement never stops, be it physical, mental, or tennis. The faster I that I can do those things, the better my chances are.”
Not known to sugarcoat his failings, Prajnesh was honest in his assessment of the match as well. Converting just one of 11 break points is never a good sign, especially late in the match where he squandered six. He admitted he was not “tactically smart” in the longer rallies, detailing the points he blundered at but said it was “pretty tough to win matches” given how he had been playing with an injured wrist.
On the bright side, his wrist seemed to be in better shape. In Wednesday’s match, he had relied exclusively on his backhand in order to not worsen his injury. But in the second match, he was using his forehand more freely, even though he was unable to wield its full power.
“There was no pain. I didn’t want to take any steps backward in terms of getting more inflammation so I didn’t want to play more than this though I probably could have,” he said.
At the same time, the 30-year-old admitted that the wrist injury was probably a flipside to his good season, as he didn’t take enough time off in the year because he was doing so well.
“I played a few too many tournaments at the beginning of the year. Till April I didn’t have the off weeks which I usually schedule in my calendar. I kept going deep in a tournament and I had even less time to train and the effects of that are showing now.
“I lost a bit of conditioning because there enough time to train and at some point something would crack and it happened to be wrist.
This will be a bit of a Catch-22 situation for the Indian as he plans his 2020 season, starting from Canberra and then the Australian Open qualifiers.
“It is a slow process and will probably take me some time but I have enough time now to put in the work… I have to figure out what works for me, schedule my off weeks or find a better routine to do the maintenance work and not lose conditioning during the tournament,” he said.
For now though, he will take a break to get married before deciding on whether or not to continue with his off-season in Germany.
Prajnesh may no longer be the India No 1 as he heads into the new season, but with his 2019 run, he has proved that he has what it takes to be a regular on the ATP Tour and not just the Challenger circuit.
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