Prajnesh Gunneswaran – Inspiring story of a once written-off for good Tennis player

This is the first in a series of articles going in-depth into the journey of Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who was unranked just 3 years ago to now being the Indian No.1 !

Part II: A parent’s perspecptive into the journey of Prajnesh Gunneswaran

The article will also be available for read on www.thebridge.in – a popular and upcoming Indian Sports website.

Read away for some rare photos and insight into an inspiring athlete! 

From a written-off for good Tennis player to becoming Indian Davis Cupper, India No.1, Asiad 2018 Medalist and the 9th highest ranked Indian ever in Men’s in just 40 months!

  • From World No. (ATP) 1590 to 104 in 40 months!
  • And India No.1!
  • Only Men’s Singles Asiad Medalist (Bronze) at Asian Games, 2018 and
  • 6th Indian to get a Men’s Singles Medal!
  • 9th highest ranked player in Mens from India ever [Open Era (1973-)]

Possible? Yes. With a Never Give Up, Passionate Fighting Spirit, Goal Focused, Give up Good Things in Life Attitude. A great lesson for all youngsters who get bogged down when failures stare at them! How to succeed in life and profession in adversity.

Starting Tennis at the age of 8 with inspiration and support from his grandparents, Prajnesh started winning National Tournament Titles in every Age Group – Under 12, Under 14, Under 16 and Under 18. Became the National Title Winner of Boys (Under 18) and Men’s Runner Up on the same day, playing dual tournaments in one week!

Then it was a roller-coaster slide downhill with on and off injuries and loss of consistency in winning matches, in spite of the best training he could get in Europe and also at the University of Tennessee (as an Undergrad student for an year before he quit college), which competed with several top Universities in the US to take him on full scholarship to play for the college.

6 years (2009 to 2015) of hard work and efforts to continue his tennis yielded virtually nil results. Best years of his youth (19 to 25) were lost! Surgery and Injuries prevented him from competing at professional level continuously for those long years, which would have made any other sportsman to quit and start enjoying life of early 20s, especially when coming from a family background that could support a comfortable lifestyle. (What is amazing is that he has had everything in life and hence there was no pressure for sustaining his drive for long years  to achieve success in his passion!)

Indian Tennis world wrote him off as a tennis player who did very well as a youngster, but nothing great to write home about post his teenage.

Younger tennis players started overtaking him and getting into Indian Davis Cup Teams, Asian Games, Olympics Teams and above all winning tournaments at national and international level. Prajnesh was nowhere in that vicinity. He was forgotten as an unfortunate talent in Tennis from Tamil Nadu.

But Prajnesh didn’t give up. Inspired, passionate, focused and relentless – he worked himself out on every aspect of the game and fitness. Kept his sadness and lost opportunities within himself. No one knew what he went through. The mental trauma of not making it in spite of standing 6’ 2” tall on the ground and having a huge talent as a Leftie with big serve and a vicious forehand. Several setbacks and failures pushed him to the edge of quitting tennis many times. But he never quit, never gave up on his dream.

Ultimately found his own solutions to his injury problems and fixed them. Relentlessly pursued a punishing schedule to hone his tennis skills and passionately worked on his fitness.

  • Restarted his professional tennis at the age of 25.
  • In July 2015 he was ranked (in the world) a no good ATP 1590.
  • By January 2016, ATP 484.
  • By January 2017, ATP 320.
  • By January 2018, ATP 243.
  • And by November 2018, ATP 104  (career best).

All done in 40 months to be precise! Prajnesh is now at his career best rank of #102.

  • In the process, won 6 Futures (10,000 $ /15,000 $ tournaments) International Titles in India and abroad.
  • In April, 2017 won his Davis Cup debut match for India against Uzbekistan.
  • Won for India decisively (after convincing the Indian Captain to play him since he was only a reserve player) the pulse racing 5th Rubber, Davis Cup decider reverse singles match, against China in April, 2018.
  • After 3 weeks, entered as an unseeded player, beat the seeds and won his maiden $150,000 Challenger title at the Kunming Open in China.
  • 3 weeks later, in May 2018, got into the Grand Slam, French Open at Roland Garros Qualifying Tournament, and came up to the final qualifying round after winning 2 rounds against tough and higher ranked players. (Also had the motivation to write his final Undergrad exams of University of London in-between these 2 rounds at Paris, and during the previous week at Frankfurt, as well!) Missed playing the Main draw of the Grand Slam by a whisker, though got the spot as a lucky loser, since he had already taken a flight to Italy to play the next tournament!  
  • By June second week entered the Stuttgart ATP 250 Mercedes Cup tournament as an unseeded player and stunned the 6th seed and World No. 23, Denis Shapovalov, in the second round. An amazing display of nerves and intensity to win against a young talent, celebrated to be the next gen Grand Slam Champion.
  • By August at Asian Games, 2018, won the only Men’s Singles Medal (Bronze) and has been celebrated by the Tennis World and the Prime Minister!
  • By mid-November, won the ATP Bengaluru Challenger to claim his second $150K+ title and become the new Indian No.1 at #110 rank
  • By end-November, reached the finals of the ATP KPIT Pune Challenger to become the 9th highest ranked Indian ever in the Open Era Men’s Singles rankings! New career-high rank of #104

Prajnesh’s quest to achieve more in Tennis at 29, especially to break into Top 50 in the world, is a continuing story!

Transition from a never cared for tennis player to talk of the Indian Tennis world in 40 months! Amazing story of grit and determination. Worth emulating in any field!


The journey in pictures and videos

2000: First title as a 11-year old

2003: Promising Young Player award from Ramesh Krishnan

2003-2006: High performance tennis center in Bangalore

October 2005: ITF Juniors Grade V – Sri Lanka – Singles Finalist

Tidbit: Prajnesh lost to a player who ended up becoming Junior World No.1. Incidentally, Prajnesh defeated the same player at the ATP Pune KPIT Challenger 2018 – R1

December 2006: ITF Juniors Grade IV – Gurgaon – Singles Champion

October 2006: DSCL Open Nationals

September 2007: ITF Juniors Grade V – Chennai – Singles & Doubles Champion

October 2007: Mens Singles Finalist – same event

2010: Part of the University of Tennessee team

Photo credits: University of Tennessee

Till July 2015: On-Off from the Tennis courts, restarts Tennis journey at the age of 25 with no ranking!

December 2015: ITF Futures title in Jassowal, India

October 2016: Mens Singles Finalist – KPIT Pune Challenger

November 2016: Heart-break at the Australian Open Wild-Card Playoffs – loses match to Denis Istomin after having 4 match points

Denis Istomin seizes the opportunity, makes the 4th round of the Australian Open defeating the all-time great Novak Djokovic. ESPN termed it a fairy-tale journey for Denis Istomin

Photo Credits: ESPN

March 2017: ITF Futures Singles title

March 2017: ITF Futures title – Trivandrum

April 2017: Davis Cup debut against Uzbekistan

September 2017: US Open Qualifying – First Grand Slam Experience

April 2018: Wins the tie with a heroic win against Next-Gen star Yibing Wu

April 2018: Prajnesh wins the Kunming Open in China

May 2018: Prajnesh misses out by a whisker in the final qualifying round of the French Open – NewYorkTimes article on this saga

June 2018: Prajnesh defeats World No. 23 Denis Shapovalov in Stuttgart

Prajnesh scored an impressive 3-set win

August 2018: Asian Games Bronze

October 2018: Finalist – ATP Ningbo Challenger $150k

November 2018: Bengaluru Open winner, 2nd $150K+ title

Photo credits: Deepthi Indukuri

November 2018: Finalist – ATP KPIT Challenger in Pune

Photo credits: Foglight frames

January 2019: Only Indian to make it to the Singles main draw of the 2019 Australian Open


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