Tata Maharashtra Open: Mmoh sends Prajnesh packing

India's top-ranked singles player at 110 Prajnesh Gunneswaran suffered an early exit as he lost 5-7, 3-6 to USA's Michael Mmoh in their first-round clash at the Tata Maharashtra Open.

USA's Michael Mmoh in action against Prajnesh Gunneswaran at the Tata Maharashtra Open 2019 on Monday.   -  R. Ragu

Prajnesh Gunneswaran, India's top-ranked singles player at 110, ended the year on a disappointing note, losing to USA's Michael Mmoh in the first round of the ATP250 Maharashtra Open on Monday.

The 29-year-old Indian, who had started the year ranked 243 in the world, reached a career high 104 in November, but an erratic display against his younger opponent saw him lose tamely in straight sets – 5-7, 3-6.

Prajnesh was broken in the first game of the match as Mmoh raced to a 2-0 lead thanks to six unforced errors from the Indian, which was to become the theme of the match.

With the initial nerves out of the way, Prajnesh took control of the third game. Two unforced errors from the 20-year-old American, ranked 107, and a beautiful forehand winner down the line saw him win his first game of the match.

Prajnesh spoke of trying to be more aggressive with his net game and he showed that in the fourth game. After quick exchanges at the net, he sent a winner just beyond Mmoh's reach to take the point. However, he followed that point up with two unforced errors and trailed 1-3. His display in the fourth game summarised his match today  –  positive, aggressive play sandwiched between unforced errors.

Though he lost the game, the trip to the net  put some confidence into his game and he took the next three games with ease. While an ace won him the fifth game to make it 2-3, he broke Mmoh's serve with a drop shot – though he got lucky with the ball clipping the net – to level the set at 3-3.

Prajnesh Gunneswarsan serves during his first-round loss to Michael Mmoh.   -  R. Ragu

 

Another drop shot, with Mmoh placed well beyond the baseline, saw Prajnesh take go ahead for the first time in the match as he took a 4-3 lead. But Mmoh did not let the change in direction of the match get to him, holding to love to make it 4-4 the next game.

From then on, Mmoh controlled the proceeding of the first set. While Prajnesh made it 5-4 in his favour with a good display of his shots – a cross-court forehand, a drop shot and a backhand winner down the line – Mmoh played deeper shots close to the baseline and didn't give Prajnesh a chance to get to the net.

Four unforced errors from the Indian saw Mmoh break his serve and take a 6-5 lead, before serving it out to take the opening set.

The second set was more straightforward than the first. At 1-1, Mmoh went on the defensive and waited for unforced errors from Prajnesh to break serve, and subsequently held serve to take a 3-1 lead.

With Prajnesh caught in two minds – between going back to his usual game or sticking to his new plan and avoid using spin too much – Mmoh forced him to play a more defensive game. Prajnesh found himself serving to stay in the match at 3-5 and two double faults and a forehand which went long saw the Indian bow out of the tournament at the first hurdle. Mmoh will face Steve Darcis in the pre-quarterfinal.

In the other Centre Court game of the day, Ernests Gulbis defeated Pedro Sousa — Marin Cilic's last minute replacement — in a tough three-setter 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. The Portuguese Sousa, who did not have much time to warm up to the tournament, gave his Latvian opponent a tough fight but eventually lost to a better prepared opponent. 

Ernests Gulbis fought off a stiff challenge from Pedro Sousa to prevail 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.   -  R. Ragu

 

First round results

Singles: Michael Mmoh (USA) bt Prajnesh Gunneswaran 7-5, 6-3; Ernests Gulbis (Lat) bt Pedro Sousa (Por) 6-4, 4-6, 6-4; Steve Darcis (Bel) bt Roberto Carballes Baena (Esp) 6-3, 6-4; Evgeny Donskoy (Rus) bt Pablo Andujar (Esp) 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(6); Jaume Munar (Esp) bt Radu Albot (Mda) 6-2, 7-6 (4).

Doubles: Gerard Granollers and Marcel Granollers (Esp) bt Nicholas Monroe (USA) and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan 6-4, 6-4; Luke Bambridge and Jonny O'Mara (GBR) bt Purav Raja and Ramkumar Ramananthan 7-6(4), 6-3; Sriram Balaji and Arjun Kadhe bt Philipp Oswald (Aut) and Tim Puetz (Ger) 7-6(1), 4-6, [10-8].