Prajnesh's journey: From fighting stress fractures to India number one
From overcoming knee stress fractures, which almost pushed him into the dark abyss, to becoming India's top singles player, the journey has been "surreal" for Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who is waiting to see how the future unfolds.
For one, who was overawed by TV cameras during the 2007 Nationals finals, the transition was going smooth for Prajnesh, but stress fractures in his knee meant that he had suddenly vanished from the scene.
He could play just six tournaments from 2010 to 2012. When he could compete in a few in 2013, he thought the tough period was over, but the recurring injury meant that he was out of action in 2014, too.
In 2015, he decided to give it a last shot. His father S G Prabhakaran, who runs a real estate business, cajoled him not to quit.
Today, he has overtaken both Yuki Bhambri (128) and Ramkumar Ramanathan (130) to be the country's top singles player at number 110.
"It's surreal that I am here all of sudden. Obviously it did not happen overnight, I have put in lot of work into it. My goals are higher than just being in top-100. This is something, which has happened on the way. I have the potential to be much higher than what I am today," said Prajnesh in a free-wheeling chat with PTI.
The Chennai left-hander always had clarity in thoughts and knew what he wanted from life.
"Things have moved faster this season. Many said it was inevitable but I never thought it that way. There are players who had potential but did not fulfil it. If I don't fulfil my potential what's the point. I have enough potential to create the weapons, which will take me there (to the top)."
"This is definitely my best season and I will use the experience and keep climbing the ladder. I need to get better to play at the higher level. The quality of shots from opponents will be difficult."
Explaining how he overcame the career-threatening knee injury, Prajnesh revealed that it was an SOS call to his German trainer Christian Bosse, which brought about relief.
"Somehow, things turned around. I called Christian Bosse, with whom I had trained in Bengaluru, and asked If I could build some sort of endurance. That fitness program worked and my injury gradually went away.
"In 2016, I played about 16 tournaments which is not great but I felt that my injury is going away. The 2017 season I played without a worry and competed in my first Grand Slam (US Open qualifying)."
2018 has been his breakthrough season on the Pro circuit. He won two Challenger titles (Anning, Bengaluru), savoured a win over top-30 player Denis Shapovalov and played a key role in India's Davis Cup win over China by winning the decisive fifth rubber against Yibing Wu.
The 28-year-old said he tweaked his game.
"I am more aggressive, I worked on my returns, fitness and mental intensity. These have helped me get to this level. I used to play a lot of rallies and it took lot out of me. That is not the right way for me to play because I have a lot of power. My transition game is not great.
"I used to chip the forehand return, so I was starting the point defensively. I did not have enough aces as compared to players who are my size and have similar pace on serve. I have made progress."
Prajnesh said the margins between win and defeat are getting slim.
"Even if I make 1 percent improvement in 10 things, that 10 percent together will make huge impact."
Prajnesh said it is difficult to pick one but he would still put the Shappvalop victory ahead.
"Personally, it would be Shapovalov. He beat world beaters like Nadal."
In his off-season, Prajnesh will train at Waske Tennis academy in Germany with his coach Bastian Suaanprateep.