BENGALURU : This has been a breakthrough year for Prajnesh Gunneswaran. After a slow start, the Chennai lad has been in fine form. Apart from winning the $150,000 Kunming Open — his maiden title on the Challenger circuit — he has advanced to one final as well as one semifinal in singles play. On top of this, he stunned World No 23 Denis Shapovalov enroute a quarterfinal appearance at the Stuttgart Open.
Seeded fourth at Bengaluru Open, his confidence showed on the court as he breezed past Russian Ivan Nedelko 6-2, 6-2 in the first round. However, his start to the second round match against German Sebastian Fanselow left him frustrated. After losing the first set 4-6, he clawed his way back to claim the second 6-4. But unforced errors and a missed volley almost cost him the match. The German kept coming back with a shot to shot response to leave Gunneswaran frustrated. However, the Indian’s superb form prevailed at last.
Trailing 3-5 as his opponent was serving for the match in the third set having broken by Fanselow early, he regained his form. He saved one match point and broke Fanselow back twice in the ninth and 11th with some brilliant forehands and baseline shots. Gunneswaran, ranked 144th, served eight majestic aces to dismantle the German and win the third set 7-5 to progress to the quarterfinals.
“I have been playing well and have had a good season. Last few weeks in China went well for me. So I was pretty optimistic and positive coming in. Conditions are different here of course so I had to focus and play as well as possible,” said Gunneswaran, who reached his career-best rank of 141 last week.
While a lot of Indians singles specialists suffer mainly due to injuries, the 29-year-old has managed to stay in good health in the current year. He has worked on his fitness and that has worked for him in the tournaments in China. “I feel good. I have done enough work to hold on to the fitness that I had at the beginning of the year,” he said.
It’s not just his fitness that he has worked on, he has improved his forehands during pre-season and that was on show on Wednesday. “I have put in a good amount of work on a lot of departments. I have improved my returns and attacking game this season,” he said. “I have also worked on the forehands specifically but it is probably a combination of both – confidence and getting better at that particular skill set.”
After Bengaluru Open, he will travel to Pune for the $50,000 Challenger event. “I have a few more to tournaments to go and I am looking forward to finishing the year strong. I have been consistently doing well in the Challengers and hoping to continue the trend,” he said. “I am currently taking it one match at a time and also looking to play as well as possible for the next three weeks and then doing my pre-season.”
He will face fellow Indian Sasi Kumar Mukund in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
Results (Singles, Indians unless specified)
Round 2: Sasi Kumar Mukund bt Blaz Kavcic (SLO) 7-6 (2), 3-1 (retd.); Saketh Myneni bt Youssef Hossam (EGY) 6-1, 3-6, 6-1; Sumit Nagal bt James Ward (GBR) 6-3, 7-6 (4); Prajnesh Gunneswaran bt Sebastian Fanselow (GER) 4-6, 6-4, 7-5; Brayden Schnur (CAN) bt Quentin Halys (FRA) 6-4, 7-6 (3); Aleksandr Nedovyesov (KAZ) bt Marc Polmans (AUS) 6-2, 6-4; Cem Ilkel (TUR) bt Zizou Bergs (BEL) 7-5, 6-3.