For India’s top-ranked tennis player Prajnesh Gunneswaran, the 2019 season is one that he won’t forget easily.
In what was a career-defining year for the 30-year-old, the Indian tennis ace made his Grand Slam debut 12 months ago, reached the third round of his first-ever Masters 1000 event in Indian Wells and also broke into the top 100 on the ATP charts on the back of some quality wins in the Challenger circuit.
But the ‘highs’ in the first half soon made way for the ‘lows’ as he failed to build on the start before a wrist injury somewhat derailed his season.
And while Prajnesh Gunneswaran was coping with the injury, planning a return at the season’s final competition - the ATP Challenger in Pune - the Chennai player was dealt a devastating blow. His father had passed away following a prolonged illness.
It’s a loss, he says, will take a long time for him to be ‘ok’ with. While the loss of a parent is the hardest to deal with for anyone, in Prajnesh Gunneswaran’s case, his father, SG Prabhakaran, was also his biggest supporter, the one who pushed him to dream of playing tennis at the highest level.
The father-son duo would be a constant fixture at tennis events before his health took a turn for the worse. Moreover, it was Prabhakaran who ensured Prajnesh Gunneswaran did not give up on his tennis in his twenties despite being sidelined for five years due to knee injury. That faith eventually paid off as the Indian tennis ace made a quality return to the circuit by breaking into the top-100 in a year's time.
“He was my pillar,” says Prajnesh Gunneswaran remembering his dad in a chat with the Olympic Channel. “I think it's going to take a long time to fade. I hope to make him proud and continue to do what I do and chase my dream. That's what he wanted me to do.”
It’s no surprise that Prajnesh Gunneswaran has chosen to turn to tennis, his comfort zone, during such a testing time. While the son is determined to honour his dad on the court, the journey so far hasn’t been easy. “There's a lot of reminders, you know. Every match I play, I used to call him after the match, before the match. All those conversations that we would have...,” recollects the Indian.
But the setback hasn’t stopped him from pursuing the dream. “This is something that I have chosen to do and this is something that I have to continue to do,” he says. “But, life has its way of throwing things at you and it is one such way. And I hope that over time it gets easier.”
Helping him in his endeavour is his wife, Sudarshana Pai. The two got married in November last year and Prajnesh Gunneswaran believes that his wife has helped him deal with ‘ups and downs’ in a better way. “It helps a lot, having my partner with me to share all the ups and downs. Moreover, not having to do long distance (relation) is a lot easier,” he says.
“I don't have to always be on the phone to have a company. It's a lot easier to do more weeks outside India, outside of your home when you have someone like that with you.”
It means Gunneswaran now isn’t alone as he pursues his goals. Not only does he have his partner, he also has the memory of his dad as he sets his eyes firmly on the target ahead.