'Long time coming' for Prajnesh Gunneswaran's first

India's top-ranked singles player makes maiden Grand Slam entry aged 29 after rallying to win final Australian Open qualifier

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'Long time coming' for Prajnesh Gunneswaran's first
India's Prajnesh Gunneswaran in action on Friday—Australian Open

By his own admission, this was a long time coming for Prajnesh Gunneswaran.

Ever since turning professional in 2007, a chunk of the Chennai man's tennis career has been taken away by injuries, and in the limited periods in which his body has managed to hold up, he has mostly flown under the radar.

On Friday, Prajnesh made his maiden entry into a Grand Slam at the age of 29, making the cut for the main draw of the Australian Open after winning his third and final qualifying match in Melbourne.

The 112th-ranked Prajnesh rallied to down Yosuke Watanuki of Japan 6-7(5) 6-4 6-4, and will face 20-year-old USA's Frances Tiafoe — currently ranked 39 in the world and one of the trickiest players on the Tour — in the opening round.

Should the left-handed Indian get past the wily American, he is likely to run into world No. 6 and ATP Maharashtra Open champion Kevin Anderson of South Africa in the second round.

The fact the Prajnesh has broken down the door to enter world tennis' Major stage is testimony to his highly fruitful 2018 season, where he began as world No. 243 and ended as India's top-ranked singles player at 110.

The southpaw tasted two Challenger titles last year including the ATP Bengaluru Open, while reaching the final of a couple of other tournaments.

"Very happy to have qualified for my first Grand Slam," Prajnesh told DNA from Melbourne on Friday. "It's been a long time coming, and I've finally got here."

In fact, he would've got there last year itself.

Prajnesh had qualified for the main draw of the 2018 French Open as a lucky loser after Nick Kyrgios pulled out of the claycourt Slam. However, the Indian could not make his debut at the Roland Garros as he had already left Paris to participate in a Challenger tournament in Italy.

"It doesn't really matter that I missed out on the French Open and that this has come one Slam later or two Slams later. I wasn't even thinking about that," Prajnesh said.

"The fact is that I have been playing well lately and I wanted to use the momentum and improvements in my game to try to do as well as possible here. I've gotten this far now because of that," he added.

The last three months of 2018 were particularly impressive for Prajnesh, taking the fast lane towards a surge in rankings as well as his confidence level.

He made the final of the Ningbo Challenger in October, the semifinals of the Liuzhou Challenger the same month, wore the Bengaluru crown in November and entered the final of the Pune Challenger the following week.
"This (Australian Open entry) is a reward for the work that I've put in," Prajnesh said.

"It doesn't always translate that way. But, at this point of time, I am winning and the processes that I'm using to improve are working for me.

"I am more confident now since I've won quite a number of matches in the last few months. Heading into the new season, I feel that I can definitely take my ranking up," he added.

For now, though, he'll have to turn all his focus on Tiafoe, a member of tennis' promising NextGen club with an unpredictable playing style that can put even the world's best players off their game.       

"I can beat him," Prajnesh said. "It'll obviously be a close match and I'll have to play well but I definitely have a chance. I just want to make the most of this."

Prajnesh’s road to main round

Qualifying Round 1: bt V Galovic (CRO) 6-4 6-4
Qualifying Round 2: bt E Lopez Perez (ESP) 6-3 6-3
Qualifying Round 3: bt Y Watanuki (JPN) 6-7(5) 6-4 6-4

N Zone 

75,000 Amount (in Aus$) Prajnesh Gunneswaran is assured of earning by playing the first round, besides the Aus$40,000 he has earned for winning the 3 qualifying rounds

Did You Know?

Prajnesh Gunneswaran is only the third Indian in five years to feature in the men’s singles main draw of a Grand Slam, the other being Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri

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