Article by Varma Alluri
Indian Wells, CA: India No.1 Prajnesh Gunneswaran scored an authoritative 7-5 6-4 win against Jason Jung of Taipei (ATP rank 132) in the first round of the qualifying rounds at the BNP Paribas Open (an ATP 1000 Masters event) being held at Indian Wells, California. Prajnesh, whose fans fondly call him “Gunner” for his brand of scintillating tennis, showed his intentions clearly by playing aggressive tennis from the get-go.
Even though Jason Jung holds a Taipei passport, he was born and raised in Southern California. Just last week he reached the quarter-finals stage on these very courts playing Indian Wells Challenger including a win against 82 ranked Serbian, Filip Krajinovik. Jung also defeated the 29th ranked latest American sensation and this year’s Australian Open Quarter-finalist, Frances Tiafoe, at New York Open last month. Handling such an in form local player who is well used these courts was never an easy proportion. Yet, Prajnesh took the fight to Jason and won very convincingly.
Both players started by holding serve easily for the first few games. It was Prajnesh who drew the first blood by breaking his opponent in game 11 to go up 6-5, thus giving himself a chance to serve it out to bag the set. In desperation of staying alive in the set, Jason played a couple of brilliant points to put pressure on Prajnesh and threatened to even scores by giving himself 2 break points (15-40), but Gunner was in no mood to budge and with some big serves and amazing court coverage went on to win the next four points to pocket the set, 7-5.
Even though each player managed to hold serve in the first 2 games of the second set, Jung was looking tired. He started to come to the net more in hopes of catching Gunner by surprise. His tactics didn’t bear fruit as Prajnesh broke him in game 3. Just when it seemed as if all the doors are getting closed for Jason, the rain gods showed up and interrupted the match for 30 minutes. The rhythm that Prajnesh had going was broken and Jung got a second wind in his sails.
With his new-found energy, Jason broke Prajnesh in the very first game after the rain-break to make the scores even at 3-3. It was the loosest game played by Gunner in this match. However, he regrouped himself quickly to break again in the next game. Once that was done, it was just a formality to close it out 2 games later for a convincing 7-5 6-4 win. Tomorrow he plays Salvatore Caruso (Italy, 168) for a place in the main draw of this prestigious tournament popularly known as the “5th Slam”.
Speaking after the match Prajnesh said, “I just played a bad first game when I came back after the rain break. I made 3 first ball errors on deuce, so I was bound to lose serve if I played of that quality which is what happened. I think I just stepped up in the next game, and at the same time he also wasn’t really feeling the ball. I found a way to break back. After that I knew I just had to hold on to my service game which is what I did”.
When asked about the nature of the courts, Prajnesh said they are really slow, but he is liking the way they are playing and that he is feeling comfortable. Talking about his next opponent Caruso, Prajnesh mentioned that their record stands at 1-1. He won their first meeting at last year’s French Open qualifying but lost the next week at a Challenger. However, he reminded that the meeting at the Challenger came when he was not in the right frame of mind as he just got the news that he could have made it to French Open main draw had he stayed back in Paris. He quickly added, “but those matches were on clay and this is hard surface, so it is completely different. But I like my chances tomorrow if I do the right things”.
If Prajnesh continues to play the way he did today, he will be favored to win tomorrow’s match and punch a ticket to his maiden main draw appearance at the picturesque Tennis Garden at Indian Wells.