Conversation with few of Prajnesh’s friends on Tour – Prajnesh Series

We caught up with 4 of his friends / peers on the tour. If you are following Indian Tennis, you know them. For the newly converted followers, here is some detail

  1. Vishnu Vardhan : Represented India at the London Olympics, Davis Cupper, National Champion, Top-100 doubles player and reached Wimbledon R2 in doubles last year.
  2. Sriram Balaji : Davis Cupper, Top-100 doubles player, Wimbledon R2 in doubles with Vishnu last year and is also an officer in the Indian Army.
  3. Mukund Sasikumar : Top-300 in Singles, several Futures titles, one of India’s brightest upcoming talents.
  4. Manish Sureshkumar : Khelo India Gold Medalist, One of India’s best junior talents, a name that we would hopefully hear a lot in the future

This is the final part of the 9-part series on Prajnesh Gunneswaran

  1. Prajnesh Gunneswaran – Inspiring story of a once written-off for good Tennis player
  2. A parent’s perspective into the journey of Prajnesh Gunneswaran
  3. 1987 Davis Cup final team members share their thoughts on Prajnesh Gunneswaran
  4. The man whom Prajnesh SOS’ed and who revived Prajnesh’s career – Christian Bosse
  5. If he says something, then you know he is doing it – Bastian Suwanprateep on Prajnesh
  6. “Prajnesh is a fighter. Off court he’s smiling, but on court he’s a different beast altogether” – Mr. Balachandran, Prajnesh’s mentor as well as coach from his younger days
  7. ‘Beating a top class player like Denis Shapovalov on his favourite surface was the pivotal moment for Prajnesh’ – Alexander Waske
  8. Indian kids focus a lot on Juniors but do not put the same rigor early to prepare for the Pro tour – Jonathan Stubbs
  9. Sub-parts
    1. Karti Chidambaram and Vivek Reddy – Conversation with two of India’s finest Tennis Administrators
    2. Conversation with few of Prajnesh’s friends on Tour
    3. Conversation with Varun Gunaseelan and Aakash Wagh : Prajnesh’s friends from Junior Tennis

All the articles are also published on http://www.thebridge.in

Initial impressions on Prajnesh Gunneswaran

Vishnu Vardhan

I have known Prajnesh for a long time but I have become close to him only in the last 2-3 years. My first impressions were from the Men’s Nationals. He is couple of years younger to me. I was seeded and was favored to go to the semis or finals. Prajnesh had just moved on from the junior circuit. I played against him and lost 4-6 4-6.

He had a big game, left-hander, was tall and it was the first time, I faced a forehand from an Indian which was pretty heavy like the Europeans. This was very unlike the other Indians who would hit it flatter. This was the first thing which caught my attention of Prajnesh.

Unfortunately, he had his own share of injuries and breakdowns before finally figuring it out all himself to maximize his potential.

Mukund Sasikumar

The first time I had a good interaction was in 2013. That year he was playing okay, but then after that he got injured. So he didn’t play. So that’s the time he was in Chennai and he was kind of helping me. He was practicing with me and all that and after that one year, he got into action again. Since then, he didn’t meet me that often but every now and then he was helping me. But was always there as a friend. Nothing much as a coach or something but he’s always voicing his opinion on what I should do and what I shouldn’t. And when I started working with a coach this year, we haven’t had many conversations since then.

When I made my first quarters this year in Anning, he was watching the match and supporting. Also, last year in 2017, we stayed together in one room in China. So that was quite fun.

He treats everyone equally. He doesn’t have the senior ego in him, which normally someone at 29 would have towards a 20-year old. He’s quiet and humble. He’s quite funny too and likes to talk tennis. That’s what I like about him. We are always talking tennis most of the time. I think he’s very into tennis that differentiates him from the rest of the crowd. There are many other guys that are, I always see-that once the match or practice is over, they don’t want to talk about tennis anymore. They talk other things in life-which is good. I don’t know if what me and Prajnesh are doing is the right thing, but whenever we sit together we always mostly talk about how we could get better. That one thing – the involvement he has towards the sport, that I like about him.

Prajnesh Gunneswaran picking up Mukund Sasikumar’s kit to pass it to his coach after Mukund’s retirement at the ATP Bengaluru Open
Photo credits: Deepthi Indukuri

Read : Sports photography: smooth execution comes from good preparation, Bengaluru Open 2018 – Deepthi Indukuri

Sriram Balaji

I have known Prajnesh for many years and we are very close. We train together in Germany and we almost travel and play the same set of tournaments. There are so many memories of us on and off the court. Impossible to explain in detail for an article.

Being ranked No.1 in India is one hell of an achievement. He is almost close to the top-100. It’s not going to stop here. He is yet to reach his peak.

Thoughts on the progress last year

Vishnu Vardhan

We have quite often ended up together playing in the same tourneys. I think more than this year, it is over the last couple of years – Prajnesh has figured out the physical qualities that are needed for him to be a top-100 player. Once he had that figured, he has been strong towards maintaining it.

I remember an ITF tourney in 2014 – Prajnesh had a tough draw and defeated all the tough players before ultimately retiring in the semis. He had basically opened up the draw for me and made it easier for me to win that tourney. He always had the potential, it was more about his fitness.

He focused on the long term – what is the game that will stand him in good stead against the top-100 or the top-50 players. He was more long term process oriented.

Another instance that I would remember is the Samarkand Challenger in Uzbekistan mid-last year. I didn’t have any partner for doubles and so I asked him, he agreed. It was his first pro tour doubles entry I think. This was one tourney where we had discussed a lot about Tennis. That tourney, he lost in the first round in singles. It was his 4th or 5th first round loss on the Challenger circuit but it didn’t bother him. He knew if he had played a bit defensive in any of those matches, he would have won a few of them. He also knew that these losses may hurt his ranking but he was focused on the long term.

Another quality of Prajnesh that stands out is, he does a lot of research. One thing is to have support, it is another thing to have so much passion to research by reading all the interviews, the articles, picking out the best aspects that make sense for you. Balaji, me and Prajnesh have lot of discussions and arguments on Tennis – Prajnesh would once in a while come out with new perspectives which the coaches don’t tell us but they would logically make sense.

Another instance – in 2016 – it was a futures in Coimbatore and I lost to Prajnesh in the 3rd set 76. To be honest, he really struggled to return my serve. Then I played against him in Shenzhen, China about an year later and he had massive service returns. When I asked him, he mentioned that he had been working on his return game and that his next target was to make his serve more stronger. So he was always long term oriented.

Even in Stuttgart, I was there – it was his first tourney on Grass but after couple of days, he told us that he feels good here and that he can make some progress in this tourney. He played an amazing match against Shapovalov – of course it’s tough to maintain the same level all the time but it showed his thought process. Prajnesh has had the confidence now for the past 1-2 years but it’s another thing to put everything together against a top-25 player and it should add to his self-belief even more.

It’s great to have a Federer or a Nadal or a Djokovic as the role model but Prajnesh Gunneswaran is one of the more closer inspirational stories on what it takes for someone to transform self into an elite Athlete.

– Vishnu Vardhan

On Indians maturing much later

Yes and I generally believe Indians mature much later than the others. Take for example Rohan Bopanna. In the Davis Cup match against Brazil few years back, well after he had committed himself completely to doubles – he played really good matches against 2 top-75 players to win us the match against them. He was into the 30s by then.

Similarly, it’s only in the last year or two that Prajnesh has understood his game and his body. He hasn’t played much before, so he would have more longevity than the other players. Prajnesh is also very smart in his scheduling. He plays only few tourneys at a time and puts equal emphasis on time-off to build his physical qualities to keep himself in the best shape. It’s this regimen that will hopefully add few more years.

(Prompt of Ramkumar / Yuki Bhambri’s scheduling)

Ramkumar is a different example. He believes in playing more and giving himself more opportunities. Prajnesh is taking the approach of somewhere in the middle. He gives himself enough tourneys while ensuring his body is maintained at a certain level.

It has been a huge learning for me itself to observe these players and their approach to the top. I believe the coaches should share more of these examples to their wards than anything else and choose the most appropriate path to their wards.

Mukund Sasikumar

(Vis-a-vis his ranking jump last year) I mean I don’t think it is anything phenomenal. He should have done it a few years back. There are so many things that he still needs to work on his game. He can play much bigger and better tennis according to me and I’m sure he will in the next few months. For the way he was playing, first of all being #250 is a crime. At least I’m happy he made it now. I mean it’s very good – I’m not taking away any credit from him. He’s done a great job over the last one year or whatever. He’s won two challengers, but I still feel his place can be much higher and he can play much better tennis than what he’s doing now.

He’s been playing the same tennis as I know for a few years now. But the only thing is that he’s played so many matches in the last few years because he was initially injured and he missed that knack of winning matches. But the last two-three years he’s been playing the full seasons – he’s more sharper in the points now, like when to go for it and when to hold back. And he’s also more confident now, so as a result of the confidence he’s playing much more aggressive now than before. The major difference is mental- he just knows when to play what, he knows when to keep things simple now. In the big moments, he is believing in himself, which I feel, when I was playing him in the past, it was missing. When the match goes side, he really starts doubting himself, but now I see that happening less. He is believing in his weapons more.

Sriram Balaji

He does not believe that there are any limitations in tennis. He will keep on going beyond the limits. He watches a lot of matches online, he learns a lot from those matches. He gives importance to every bit while watching those videos. Let it be the footwork, preparation or accuracy and what not. We have had lots of discussions watching those videos. I believe that’s what has got him here, that willingness to learn and execute.

Manish Sureshkumar

I have known Prajnesh for the past 2-3 years. Whenever he is in Chennai, we play. The big change that has come about in Prajnesh’s game is that he has become aggressive. Earlier he was more content with rallying and extending the point. Nowadays he steps in, plays more aggressive and is not giving much time for the opponents. He has been moving around his opponents quite a bit. That’s what I think has contributed to such a big jump.

He is very sensible and has a clear thought process. He does not care about the results but focuses more on the process.

What do you think he needs to do as he transitions to the top-100 level

Vishnu Vardhan

First the fitness. If he plays the last few games of the 3rd set with the same intensity as the first two games of the match and for multiple matches over 20-22 weeks, then I think he is set.

Second part is serve. I would personally request him to be more precise in his serves and the placement as he aims for the top-75. Outside of that, his overall game is very explosive. He just needs those extra one or two free points on his serve to preserve his energy for the bigger matches.   

Third is to stay disciplined. To ensure he maintains the same energy and fitness levels even during the tourneys.


Mukund Sasikumar

I would say, just keep doing what he’s doing now and listen to his coaches – whoever his coach is and not let this success get into his head and get content of what he’s doing right now. Because, most of the players, the mistake they make is that, once they get to 80 or 90 or top-100, they get content and stop adding things and evolving their game. Because you are already earning a lot of money and you are already quite famous, but after that he still needs to understand that learning is a continuous process and he should continue to look to get better. I think he will reach his potential soon. I would say, just not get content  with anything , just not be happy with what’s coming now. What’s coming now is great – top 100 is a very good achievement, but still look to get better and keep his head down and keep working hard like he’s doing now and he should be fine.

Sriram Balaji

He has been working on specific things which will take him to the next level. For example, you can see Prajnesh coming to the net more often now than before. Which makes him finish the points faster and save energy. His volleys have gotten so much better.


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