CHENNAI: Earlier this week, Prajnesh Gunneswaran made heads turn at the Indian Wells Masters thanks to significant victories over Benoit Paire and Nikoloz Basilashvili. The southpaw, after coming through the qualifiers to make his main draw debut at this level, reached the third round before losing out to Ivo Karlovic in two sets.
The 29-year-old’s run at Indian Wells is the latest in a series of positive outcomes for the World No 97 (projected to rise to No 82 once rankings are updated next Monday). For example, he made his Major debut only two months ago.
In an interview with this newspaper, Gunneswaran spoke about the improvements in his game, his upward curve in the last year and his plans for the rest of the season. Excerpts:
What and all worked for you this week?
I think I have the level to succeed at this stage and win matches. There is no secret... I am not doing something different all of a sudden. I have been doing the same thing that I have been doing for the last three to six months.
How did you find the conditions (cold winds, chilly weather and so on)?
There was only one day when the wind was a factor during my match. When they say it was cold, it really wasn’t cold. I don’t think it dropped below 12... it definitely wasn’t freezing. The ball comes a bit slowly if it’s cold and during the day it’s a bit faster.
Would you agree with the assessment that your backhand has come up by leaps and bounds?
I have been working on every aspect of my game, including forehand and service. Maybe my backhand is good enough now. I can do damage to the opponents with it. I have been working on it for the last three years, so it’s not that I have started working on it recently.
Last year this time, you were playing a Futures in Chandigarh... surprised by this rise so soon?
Even for me, this is a bit of a surprise, it happened faster than I thought it would. But I guess that’s how it goes for most people. I think it has been pretty gradual in a way but I did start to go through Challengers very fast at the end of the year. I also think I started to do well in the summer. After I won a Challenger (Anning), I was feeling better. After that, I beat (Denis) Shapovalov... going from there to doing well in a Challenger is not a stretch. Things started to come together nicely after that.
You also had a good China swing, making semifinals and final in two weeks?
Only after that China run (October 2018) I came close to the top 100... then I started to believe that I could be at this level and compete against these players. I played a couple of guys who were in the top 100 at that time in the Challengers and when I was able to consistently compete against them I started to feel like I belong (here).
That feeling... how important is it for an athlete to have belief?
End of the day, it is always important to have confidence. Not just as a player but for anything in life you have to have confidence to be good enough. If you don’t do that, it makes your life a lot harder. So it’s extremely important... you either develop it with matches or a certain amount of innate self belief. I think you need both.
Your plans for the rest of the year?
It depends on how many points I make, and how far I am from being in the top 100. All those factors will determine whether I will play Challengers or the World Tour going forward this year. If maybe I make another 200 points in the next 4-5 events, then I don’t have to worry too much about defending points. If I don’t, then I have to make a call. I will only know at the end of the summer as to what I need to do. I am hoping that, you know, by that time I have made quite a lot of points so I can continue to play Tour events.