Prajnesh’s journey: From stress fractures to India number one

Prajnesh Gunneswaran's rise to the top was riddled with recurring injuries that put him out of action for most of the period between 2010 and 2014.

Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who won the Bengaluru Open 2018 is now India's top player, ranked 110 in the world.   -  V Sreenivasa Murthy

From overcoming stress fractures in his knees to becoming India’s top singles player, the journey has been “surreal” for Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who is waiting to see how the future unfolds.

For someone who was overwhelmed by TV cameras during the 2007 Nationals finals, the transition was pretty smooth for Prajnesh, but stress fractures in his knee meant that he had suddenly vanished from the scene.

He played just six tournaments between 2010 and 2012. When he could compete in a few in 2013, he thought his trial was over, but the recurring injury meant that he was out of action in 2014, too.

In 2015, he decided to give it a last shot after his father S.G. Prabhakaran, who runs a real estate business, cajoled him not to pursue his dream.

Today, he has overtaken both Yuki Bhambri (128) and Ramkumar Ramanathan (130) to be the country’s top singles player, ranked 110 in the world.

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“It’s surreal that I am here all of sudden. Obviously it did not happen overnight, I have put in lot of work into it. My goals are higher than just being in top-100. This is something, which has happened on the way. I have the potential to be much higher than what I am today,” said Prajnesh in a free-wheeling chat with PTI.

The left-hander from Chennai has always been clear about his goals.

“Things have moved faster this season. Many said it was inevitable but I never thought it that way. There are players who had potential but did not fulfil it. If I don’t fulfil my potential what’s the point. I have enough potential to create the weapons, which will take me there (to the top).”

“This is definitely my best season and I will use the experience and keep climbing the ladder. I need to get better to play at the higher level. The quality of shots from opponents will be difficult.”

Prajnesh revealed that it was an SOS call to his German trainer Christian Bosse that helped him overcome the career-threatening knee injury.

“Somehow, things turned around. I called Christian Bosse, with whom I had trained in Bengaluru, and asked If I could build some sort of endurance. That fitness program worked and my injury gradually went away.

“In 2016, I played about 16 tournaments which is not great but I felt that my injury is going away. The 2017 season I played without a worry and competed in my first Grand Slam (US Open qualifying).”

2018 has been his breakthrough season on the Pro circuit. He won two Challenger titles (Anning, Bengaluru), savoured a win over top-30 player Denis Shapovalov and played a key role in India’s Davis Cup win over China by winning the decisive fifth rubber against Wu Yibing.

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The 28-year-old said he has tweaked his game.

“I am more aggressive, I worked on my returns, fitness and mental intensity. These have helped me get to this level. I used to play a lot of rallies and it took lot out of me. That is not the right way for me to play because I have a lot of power. My transition game is not great.

“I used to chip the forehand return, so I was starting the point defensively. I did not have enough aces as compared to players who are my size and have similar pace on serve. I have made progress.”

During his off-season, Prajnesh will train at Waske Tennis academy in Germany with his coach Bastian Suaanprateep.