Australian Open 2019: Prajnesh Gunneswaran aims to break into top-100 after making Grand Slam debut in Melbourne

Fresh off his first Grand Slam appearance at the Australian Open, 29-year-old Prajnesh Gunneswaran is already back to training in India, this time for the Davis Cup. The current India No 1 made his Grand Slam main draw debut against American young gun Frances Tiafoe, taxing the 18-year-old in the first set before his eventual loss to the teen.

Heat was said to have played a factor, but for Gunneswaran, it was the light that became an issue. "Visibility was a definite problem," he said. "The time of day we played, there were times I couldn't see the ball at all, and that definitely was an issue. The first set, I almost had Tiafoe, and that match could have gone either way. But Tiafoe is an amazing player, no doubt about it." Indeed, the 39th-ranked Tiafoe went on to upset tournament 5th seed and World No 6 Kevin Anderson, taking control of the match entirely after losing the first set to the 2018 Wimbledon finalist.

Australian Open 2019: Prajnesh Gunneswaran aims to break into top-100 after making Grand Slam debut in Melbourne

Prajnesh Gunneswaran made his first Grand Slam main draw appearance at the 2019 Australian Open. Reuters/Edgar Su

2018 was a bumper year for Gunneswaran. He played an integral part in India's Davis Cup victory over China and defeated Canadian wunderkind Denis Shapovalov at Stuttgart. Gunneswaran also won the Kunming Open title last year, and despite having struggled with a number of knee injuries in the past, considers himself at his fittest in recent months. "I've been playing my best tennis and my old injuries haven't bothered me as much," he said.

Gunneswaran, who hit a career-high ranking of 104 last year, described his Asian Games bronze and the win over Shapovalov as two of the high points of his year. At 29, however, Gunneswaran is aware that age is not necessarily on his side. "I'm 29, that's older than average. If I had been even a couple of years younger, maybe I could have won this match, maybe I could have hit my peak earlier. But having come to this, I wouldn't change anything." Gunneswaran, however, acknowledges that longevity in tennis is something that has transformed the rest of the sport. Sports science, medicine, teams, training and scheduling have contributed to players playing much better tennis for longer. Even something that sounds as simple as better scheduling really helps."

This year, Gunneswaran is already aiming for bigger and better things. His next goal is the French Open, where he aims to qualify for the main draw directly. "My favourite Grand Slam is Wimbledon though. That's the oldest and the most prestigious one that everyone wants to play."

A believer in setting smaller, short-term goals towards a long term goal, Gunneswaran said his aim was to move up in the rankings, consolidate his spot in the standings, and "play my best tennis". That has meant, for Gunneswaran, an over 130-spot climb in the ATP rankings, an increased, sustained level of fitness — and a first Grand Slam appearance.

Now, Gunneswaran's aim is to be "comfortably inside the top 100." That would translate into the ability to play more tournaments on the ATP circuit as part of the draw, and access to the main draws of Grand Slams. "Age may not necessarily be on my side, and if I had hit my peak a few years ago, maybe, it would have been even better. But I'm really happy with what I've achieved this year. My body and mind are feeling good, and it has been a strong year so far." Currently ranked at 109, Gunneswaran strongly believes the only way is up — and achieving each of his smaller goals is the key to the bigger ones falling into place.

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Updated Date: Jan 18, 2019 13:43:15 IST

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