India at Wimbledon 2019: Prajnesh Gunneswaran faces massive task from get go; consistency concerns for doubles specialists

India once again have just one player in the singles draw of a grand slam. Prajnesh Gunneswaran is the only Indian singles player to feature at Wimbledon with Ramkumar Ramanathan, Saketh Myneni and Ankita Raina all faltering in qualifying. Prajnesh has made the main draw by way of his ranking — a proof of the leftie's rise in the charts in the last year.

Things won't be easy for the Wimbledon debutant when he steps on to Court 12 alongside Canada's Milos Raonic.

 India at Wimbledon 2019: Prajnesh Gunneswaran faces massive task from get go; consistency concerns for doubles specialists

Prajnesh Gunneswaran takes on Milos Raonic in his first round of Wimbledon 2019. (Instagram: Prajnesh Gunneswaran)

Both big-serving players, both imposing figures in their own way, both standing over six feet tall. That is probably where the similarities stop. Prajnesh will be playing his third Slam main draw match, first at Wimbledon and has only five match wins in the main draw of an ATP Tour level tournament. Put that against Raonic's bio: runner-up at 2016 Wimbledon, semi-finalist in 2014 and quarterfinalist in the last two years. He has 336 match wins next to his name, top rank of 3 and eight career titles. Raonic's prize money ($18,507,698) is 45-times that of Prajnesh ($464,544).

But the statistics count for nothing when they're on the court. The only factor that matters is the difference in experience — at the Wimbledon and in grand slams. India's top singles player, however, is eager to push himself and Raonic to do what he does: give his best.

“He is tough opponent, but I can beat him. It will be a good challenge,” Prajnesh was quoted as saying by PTI. “I can be tough to beat on any surface, If I am playing well and I will prepare as well as possible, go out there and give my best.”

If the opponent wasn't enough to make it a nervous occasion, the fact that the 29-year-old from Chennai is coming off the back of injury makes things trickier. He picked up a shoulder strain during the final of Anning Challenger and recovery kept him out for a month.

Since the clay court season, Gunneswaran hasn't had much match practice. He lost in the first round of qualifying in Stuttgart (to Matteo Viola) and Queen's (to James Ward) before playing in the main draw of Antalya where he reached the second round before losing to Lorenzo Sonego. "I was struggling before the French Open, but I am feeling much better now. I have not had a lot of matches but I am as ready as I can be. It is going to be a good match," Gunneswaran was quoted as saying by the Times of India.

"In Stuttgart (this year), I was serving 20 kmph slower than my average serve. But I made a bigger impact than I thought," he said of his retirement in the third set.

"Queen's (first round defeat against James Ward) wasn't great for me. In Antalya, I turned it around. I was happy with the way I played. I played positive tennis right through," he went on to add.

Prajnesh's record on grass: 4-6 with a noteable win against Denis Shapovalov in Stuttgart last year.

Inconsistency plagues doubles field

India will have as many as five doubles specialists in the main draw. The top half of the draw has Divij Sharan partnering with Marcelo Demoliner against the all-German pairing of Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies; Rohan Bopanna alongside Pablo Cuevas against Marcus Daniell and Wesley Koolhof. The lower half has Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan teaming up with Purav Raja to take on Lleyton Hewitt and Jordan Thompson; Leander Paes will continue his love affair with the sport by partnering Benoit Paire. They open against Alexander Bublik and Mikhail Kukushkin with a potential second round against second seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah.

In the lead up to Wimbledon, India's top-ranked doubles player Sharan lost in the first round in Stuttgart, reached the pre-quarters in Halle and quarterfinals in Antalya. Ever since his quarter-final finish last year at Wimbledon, which also took him to career-high 36th in the world, Sharan has been delivering good results for the country. He, alongside Bopanna, won gold at the Asian Games and won India's only rubber in the Davis Cup tie against Italy on the grass of Kolkata. Despite plans of working with Bopanna to form a strong unit with Olympics a year ago, the duo went separate ways in March.

A look at Bopanna's Instagram timeline and one would notice the Coorg native has a busy life going on away from the court. He's worked hard and seemingly enjoys his foray into coffees. Add to that, he became a father to Tridha in May and has been jet setting across the globe to balance personal and professional life. Moving to on-court activities, Bopanna's only title this year has been alongside Divij in Pune. Just this year, he's partnered: Sharan, Shapovalov, Dominic Inglot, Marius Copil and Cuevas for Eastbourne and Wimbledon. Bopanna and Shapovalov pairing has played across multiple tournaments so much so they beat the Bryan Brothers in Stuttgart.

He's 46, turned pro in 1991, reached career-high of No 1 in 1999, has over 750 doubles wins, has 54 titles, a Davis Cup record and yet Paes keeps on going. The intensity has dropped, the reflexes are not as spontaneous as they used to be and yet he can pull off incredible volleys, has great touch and above all an imposing court presence. The veteran reached the second round in Antalya, final in Ilkley, second round at Roland Garros, semis in Lyon, Marrakech, Sophia Antipolis, Montpellier, quarters in Dubai for an impressive year.

Since Purav decided to go separate ways from Divij, he has found a teammate in another leftie with a two-handed backhand and good skills at the net. The difference in experience, however, is telling. Jeevan would be making his grand slam debut at Wimbledon. From an initial target of making the main draw of Roland Garros, the pairing has continued amid decent results. In their very first tournament, they reached the semis in Sofia followed by semis in Dubai, Mexico, Ilkley and quarters in Marseille, Houston, Lyon, Nottingham.

The doubles teams need to get better at putting wins together in order to win the title. With no doubles player working together for long with respective partner, it becomes even trickier to get that win on the board. Or, it would be 23 grand slams without an Indian winning the doubles title and 20 years since the last triumph at Wimbledon.

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Updated Date: Jun 30, 2019 21:12:09 IST