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Always knew I was good enough to beat the top guys: Prajnesh Gunneswaran

Prajnesh Gunneswaran might not have done that, but he has certainly shone bright with his show in the two ATP Masters tournaments over the last couple of weeks.

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Achieving the 'Sunshine Double' — winning the ATP Indian Wells and Miami Open back-to-back — is known to be one of the toughest tasks in tennis' chockablock yearly calender.

Prajnesh Gunneswaran might not have done that, but he has certainly shone bright with his show in the two ATP Masters tournaments over the last couple of weeks.

Making his maiden main draw of a Masters event — the most prestigious on the ATP tour — at the Indian Wells, the world No. 84 Prajnesh upset the 69th-ranked Benoit Paire and 18th-ranked Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first two rounds before going down to the big-serving Ivo Karlovic.

The southpaw — who has surged in the world rankings over the last one year —backed up his run in the Californian desert by making the main draw of the Miami Open too. However, he ran out of steam there in the opening block, losing to world No. 61 Jaume Munar.

Back in India and preparing for the clay-court season, the 29-year-old has a chat with DNA about the takeaways from his Masters sojourn in the US and what it does to his self-belief of belonging to the biggest stage of the sport. Excerpts:

Are you disappointed that you couldn't build on your Indian Wells run in Miami?

Well, I gave myself the opportunity of getting through a couple of rounds in the main draw and collecting a lot of points (in Miami). But I'm still happy with the performance that I put in. I got through it, qualified for it, and it's not every week that I play a Masters 1000 event and win a lot of matches there. So, if I'm regularly playing at that level, then maybe I would've been disappointed. But I was completely fine with the way it went. I would've obviously liked to have won more matches. But I've taken the positives out of it and I will improve on things that are needed to be worked upon to start winning more matches at that level.

Considering it was your first main draw appearance at the Masters level, were you surprised with how deep you went at the Indian Wells?

It's just very good to know that I'm close enough to the level. That I'm good enough to beat those guys that I played against. That's a big deal. But I won't say that I'm surprised by it. I've been doing well at every level that I've played in the last six months. I wasn't sure how close or far away I was (at the Masters level), but I could clearly see that I was close. So, I was happy with that.

You've said earlier that you believe you can be a top-20 player. But when you actually go out there and beat those top-50 and top-20 guys, does it strengthen your belief?

Yes, it was very important. It showed me that I have the level to compete against the best in the world, and I'm proving it to myself. The more often I do it, the more I will truly believe in myself, play with lesser pressure at that level and closer to my full potential. And the more I do that, the more chances I'll have of winning.

What would be the one takeaway from your Indian Wells and Miami show?

Just knowing that I can dig in mentally. Against Nikoloz, I didn't let up throughout the match (Prajnesh won 6-4 6-7(8) 7-6(4)). Had I won it quickly in two sets, I would've probably enjoyed it a little less. When I lost that second set with a break up, I had to show myself and the opponent that I was willing to fight in the best-of-three match and not just go away. It's not something that's very easy to do, especially when I'm not used to playing against players of that calibre too often. That match was extremely big for me, to be able to see that I can do that point after point in a match that went to the wire. So, yes, I proved to myself that no matter the duration of the match, I could sustain the pressure physically, mentally and in terms of my tennis. I think that is something that is really important to be a competitive player at the highest level.

You said you didn't know how close or far you were at that level. When you beat guys like Benoit and Nikoloz, do you feel the bridge is narrowing between you and top guys?

If I am beating them, then it definitely is, right?

Not just in terms of results, but also the level of tennis...

Look, I've always played big tennis, and I always knew that I was good enough to beat the top guys when I'm really playing well. But the point is, can you do it for five points in a match or the whole match? That is really the thing that determines whether you're good enough to beat players of that standard. I was always capable of doing it for a set, or maybe half a set. But now, I'm able to do it continuously throughout the match. I never doubted that I had the potential to beat the top guys when I am playing at my best, but you don't play your best every day. So, when you play your average, you need to be good enough to beat them then as well. And I think I'm getting there now. Maybe, I don't need to be at my absolute best to beat the top guys now.

Would the next challenge be to put together a string of consistent performances at the top level?

Not really. My goal is to focus on improving my tennis. The moment I fill those gaps in my game, then automatically I will start winning more consistently. It may not happen immediately, but if I keep doing things the way I've been doing over the last six months, then my chances will rise. The odds of playing well consistently at that top level will increase.

I don't think I'm there yet. If you go further into these tournaments, you will play guys like Kevin Anderson and the other top-10 guys in the world. And I need to play better than I am right now against them. It's not that I am not good enough. But, it's not about beating them one out of 10 times, it is about how do you beat them over and over again.

Plans to play Madrid 1000

Prajnesh Gunneswaran said he plans to play the ATP Madrid Open, a Masters event, in May in the build up to the French Open. "I'm going to be playing a lot of Tour events, and one Challenger in Anning (in April). After that, maybe I'll play in Madrid. I'll play three-four tournaments before the French Open, and 75 per cent of them Tour events. Depending on how well I do at the French and Wimbledon, I'll decide how to go about the rest of the season," he said.

Prajnesh’s Masters run

 

At Indian Wells

Qualifiers  

beat Jason Jung & 
Salvatore Caruso

Round 1  

beata Benoit Paire 
7-6(5) 6-4

Round 2  

beat Nikoloz Basilashvili 
6-4 6-7(6) 
7-6(4)

Round 3  

lost to Ivo Karlovic 
3-6 6-7(3)

At Miami

 

Qualifiers  beat Adrian Menendez-Maceiras & Jay Clarke

Round 1  

lost to Jaume Munar 6-7(3) 4-6

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