Conversation with Varun Gunaseelan and Aakash Wagh : Prajnesh’s friends from Junior Tennis

Thank you to Varun and Aakash for taking the time out to speak to us. For the few of us who may not have heard about them – A brief introduction below

  • Varun Gunaseelan : Varun was one of India’s top talents during his playing days. Varun is also a mountaineer who has climbed over 60 mountain summits across 6 continents. He is also the co-founder of the Wild Warrior Race initiative.
  • Aakash Wagh : Another one of India’s top talents, Aakash impressed many with his tough 2-setter against a top-20 player at the ATP Kingfisher Open in Mumbai in 2006. Aakash Wagh is currently part of the Khelomore.com initiative.

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

Journey into the High Performance Tennis Center in Bangalore

Varun Gunaseelan

I was about 15 years old and I had to make a choice between Tennis and School. I chose Tennis and this was one of the best options available at that time. It had a good education setup while allowing you to play Tennis full-time.

I moved there on the 16th birthday and I knew all the players before.

Aakash Wagh

Before HPTC, Balachandran Sir was based here in Pune. From about age 7 to 14, I was a student here. In early 2004, Bala sir moved to HPTC and I moved along with him. I knew Prajnesh on/off before as he was only 1 year older than me and Prajnesh, Jeevan and other guys from the south used to keep coming to Pune to Balu sir.

So we all ended up coming together at HPTC. At HPTC, we used to play near the Cubbon park but our place of stay was an hour away and we were all together in a hostel. I was there for about an year and a half before I was recruited by MBTA.

Initial impressions of Prajnesh

Aakash Wagh

Tennis wise, he was always talented and had a big forehand. Back then, he was physically not as big as he is today. We were almost the same height then, now he is much bigger. This has made a difference to his game.

We both are left-handers. We played together and won the U16 National Doubles Championship. The opponents used to find it tricky to face us as they are not used to a Leftie-Leftie combination. One of the things that worked for us was that we were good friends off-court. So the coordination came naturally to us.

As a person he was always positive. We had played quite a few tourneys together and we even won the U16 Doubles Nationals. However, there was a period, where he was very injury prone (and even I was injury prone). It was clear though that once he sorted out the physical issues, his game will put him in the top echelon. He is also extremely hard working. Even after a match is done, he is always asking what could have been done better.

Outside of Tennis, he is very chilled out, easy going. He is at that stage of his career, where athletes appear like that they have that ego – he is different, for his background and for all his success recently, he is still as approachable and easy going as ever. One thing that most will vouch for, is his honesty. He will be honest and will try to help others in whatever way he can.

He is also a foodie. We had a trip to Spain in 2004-05. We always used to eat a lot. At times, we used to have the fitness trainer be very strict on us. So we used to wake up before everyone else, go to the nearby bakery and have chocolate croissant.

The amount of food and the kind of food he eats, it’s unbelievable to us that he is so fit.  

Varun Gunaseelan

I had known Prajnesh since the U12 days as he was in the top-3 of his age group back then. When he was at HPTC, he was injured a lot. He was also not that tall. We both were around 5’5 to 5’6 when he was about 15-16 yrs old. We could always see though that whenever he is on the court, he would play really well.

In fact I remember the U16 National Tourney in Bombay. His shoulder was injured and so he played by serving under-arm and by slicing on his forehand. He reached the finals with just a backhand stroke. This is something that I hadn’t seen ever.

You could see his fighting spirit from the above example.

Varun Gunaseelan – The Mountaineer

On Prajnesh’s journey over the past 12 months

Varun Gunaseelan

I have been following his results very closely – we are good friends. Infact I was planning to go to Stuttgart incase he had won the 2nd round and setup a match with Roger Federer.

I am not involved with Tennis anymore but I have been following the results. I think the biggest aspect is that he has figured out his body on what is needed for the top-100 level. Once he has that figured, it was going to be a matter of time.

The win against Shapovalov was big. However, based on my conversations with Prajnesh, I believe there was a match against an Aussie top-100 player (probably Jordan Thompson) – Prajnesh was a set and a break up. Even though he lost the match, it gave him that belief that he can play and win against the top-100 players.

He hadn’t really played a full-season till 1-2 years ago. For someone to make it at the age of 28/29 and to have that desire to figure things out and make it now. To commit that many hours towards rehab, that many hours towards training, towards Tennis – Imagine he has been at it for 10 years or more on the Pro Tour and still couldn’t play one full season – to be still at it – speaks volumes of his desire, hard work and self-belief.

– Varun Gunaseelan

Aakash Wagh

He started understanding the requirements of the Pro Tour both game wise as well as on the physical requirements. Christian Bosse has also helped him out a lot over the past few years to get him to this stage physically. Touchwood, thankfully, he has no niggles in the past couple of years which are generally problematic.

Tactically – he himself reads a lot and is one of the best tacticians out there. He also has a wonderful team around him in Germany and India. Being fit itself has allowed him to climb this ladder.

The Davis Cup win was also the big turning point – it showed his big heart and confidence. The results were much better from the week following after that. It gave him that belief.

Being a leftie, I feel he has all the strokes. One stroke I would add is backhand down the line. His backhand cross court is really good. If he can also play backhand down the line in a similar strong vein, then it will improve him even further I feel.


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