Feature | Tennis

Prajnesh Gunneswaran wants pain-free success

India’s top-ranked singles player broke into the top 100 last year and played at all the Slams but was beset by frequent injuries.

By Rahul Venkat ·

A cursory look at Prajnesh Gunneswaran’s 2019 would paint a very rosy picture. The tennis ace reached a career-high ATP ranking of 75, breaching the top 100 for the first time. He played in all four Grand Slams, getting direct entry into the Wimbledon and US Open.

However, he was eliminated in the first round at all of them and his rankings took a dip because he pulled out of some tournaments due to a combination of several injuries. It was a year of two halves for the 30-year-old.

“2019 was a mixed year for me. I did make the main draws of the Grand Slams, obviously did not win any of them, the quality of the opponents did not make it any easier,” Prajnesh Gunneswaran told the Olympic Channel. “What I did not like about it is that I got injuries at the wrong time which did not allow me to climb further up the ladder.”

The year seemed to be the one where he finally came of age as he began in fine fashion, making it to the main draw of the Australian Open, progressing to the pre-quarters at Indian Wells, and then rising up to rank 75th in April. However, that was as high it was going to get for the Chennai native.

“I wasn’t in great shape during the clay season. I had a shoulder injury some weeks before the French Open and so going into it, I had not practiced too much, which is why I was beaten badly in the first round,” revealed Prajnesh Gunneswaran.

He retired from the following Stuttgart Open and started the grass season with close losses before eventually falling to Milos Raonic in the first round of Wimbledon, an opponent whose booming serves made him a difficult proponent on that surface.

No respite for the southpaw

However, if the Indian hoped to kick on from the setback, his ill luck did not allow him to. “At the US Open, against someone like Daniil Medvedev, I had to be at my best to even have a chance but unfortunately, I twisted my ankle in the first set which restricted my movement and he annihilated me,” said Prajnesh Gunneswaran.

The new month brought about new problems. The 30-year-old suffered tendinitis on the wrist, an issue that affected his forehand and bugged him till the Australian Open this year, where he again fell at the first hurdle.

“I had worked hard to build a platform from where I could launch a proper challenge and I played through those injuries to try and maintain that ranking. In that process, I created newer injuries, which only hurt me more,” he rued.

Prajnesh’s plans for 2020

Prajnesh Gunneswaran has undergone physiotherapy in Germany and with his coach in Chennai and claims he is getting better by the day. “My shoulder is still not 100 per cent but the wrist is almost healed and I am feeling much better than in Australia.”

The next step is to play in the Tata Open Maharashtra, where he will be up against international stars like Benoit Paire and Phillip Kohlschreiber. The tournament will also see three Indians - Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Sumit Nagal, and Ramkumar Ramanathan play in the main draw for the first time.

Prajnesh Gunneswaran does want to play in the Olympics later this year but he realizes it is an uphill task given his current ranking of 123. His plans, nevertheless, are clear. “If I’m only 50 or 100 points away, I will certainly push myself harder to qualify for the Olympics. It depends on how the next few months pan out,” he said.