Second seed N. Sriram Balaji came from a set down to beat top seed Prajnesh Gunneswaran 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the singles final of the $15,000 ITF Futures tournament here on Saturday.
It was Balaji's second singles title in the last five tournaments – including two final appearances – and coming as it did on the day he turned 27, against a player who had beaten him in the previous final in Bhilai, it was indeed doubly sweet.
“I was under pressure,” Balaji said after the win. “In Bhilai too because previously when i played him I had lost in the third set tie break after having match points. [In Bhilai] I didn’t focus on my game and played to his strengths. This time i changed things and managed to pull it off.”
But for a set and a half it was Prajnesh who held the upper hand. The first set was easy with breaks of serve in the third and the fifth games. In the second set, on both his service games at 2-2 and 3-3, Balaji was in a spot coming within two points of losing his serve. But he managed to wriggle out, broke Prajnesh to 5-3 and then levelled the match at one set all.
This he did with a string of huge serves and impressive volleys. On more than one occasion he combined both, playing serve-and-volley tennis even on second serves.
“At first, I was playing from the back. He has got a big game and a big forehand. So my plans weren't working. In the second set I started serving and volleying. That put some pressure on him.”
Prajnesh felt it. At 3-3 in the third, there were four unforced errors which handed his opponent the break. With Balaji serving for the match at 5-4, Prajnesh hit two fine return winners and earned a break point. But Balaji, as he had done previously, fired three huge serves to close out the match.
The result: Singles: Final: N. Sriram Balaji bt Prajnesh Gunneswaran 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.
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