Even until a year ago, Prajnesh Gunneswaran’s wasn’t a prominent name in Indian tennis circles. After having made waves in the junior circuit, winning the Under-16 and Under-18 national singles titles almost a decade ago, he forever seemed to be in a state of hibernation.
But not any more. After finally putting together an injury-free season – in 2016 he played in 19 tournaments, the most in his career – he has earned successive call-ups to the Indian Davis Cup squad. In the Australian Open Wildcard Playoff tournament, the 27-year-old held three match-points against Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin before losing. Istomin's story is now part of tennis folklore - he had stunned the six-time Australian Open Champion Novak Djokovic.
“You will lose matches like this to any player,” Prajnesh said on the sidelines of the USD 15,000 ITF Futures tournament here. “But getting to that position meant I was good enough to beat him (Istomin).”
The two could come face-to-face when the Istomin-led Uzbekistan side lands here for the Davis Cup tie in April. Prajnesh is part of the six-man outfit announced by captain Mahesh Bhupathi and with the latter having made known his preference for three singles specialists to be chosen in the final four, there is a chance of him making it along with frontline singles players Yuki Bhambri and Ramkumar Ramananthan.
It also has to be said that N. Sriram Balaji, the other man in competition, plays doubles regularly, something that Prajnesh does not. Whether this will affect the selection, only time will tell. For Prajnesh though, the year 2016 and that result against Istomin transcends everything. It was, as he said earlier, one of validation.
“If I play him (Istomin), may be it will offer me a slight pyschological boost,” he said. “But I would say it is a boost in general. Not just against him. Now I know I am good enough to play against guys like him. The next time I step on to the court, I will go there with the belief that I can get the match close and turn it my way.
“It (the year 2016) was new for me. I was happy to be competing and finding out what I was capable of. Every match and every tournament was giving me a new kind of exposure. That experience is something I needed,” he said. “I am older than most guys but I have played a lot of less matches than them,” Prajnesh pointed out. “So I have a lot of catching up to do. I can play tennis. But playing tennis and winning a tennis match are two different things. It about getting better, learning and becoming a better match-player.”
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