Prajnesh Gunneswaran had come through the qualifiers in Melbourne but made the cut at Wimbledon, French Open and the US Open owing to better ranking. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Indian tennis player Prajnesh Gunneswaran sneaked into the Australian Open men's singles main draw as a lucky loser and may run into world number two Novak Djokovic if he clears the first hurdle. The Indian left-hander had lost the final qualifying round to Latvia's Ernests Gulbis in straight sets but was fortunate to make the main draw as one of the direct entrants withdrew from the tournament. It will be Prajnesh's fifth straight appearance in the main draw of a Grand Slam. Last year also, the Chennai player had come through the qualifiers in Melbourne but made the cut at Wimbledon, French Open and the US Open owing to better ranking. A good draw has put Prajnesh against Japanese Tatsuma Ito, ranked 22 places below the Indian at 144. This will be the first meeting of the duo.
The 30-year-old Indian now not only has the opportunity to win his maiden Grand Slam main draw match but also to set up a showdown with Serbian great Djokovic. Prajnesh said he is not looking beyond the first round. "I am very happy I got the Lucky Loser spot and I am only thinking about my first round now. I will try to make the most of it. Ito is a very good player. He was in top-100 and is experienced. I will need to play well to beat him," Prajnesh told PTI.
At the 2019 US Open, Sumit Nagal ran into legendary Roger Federer and caused a few ripples by a taking a set off the Swiss. The hard-working Prajnesh lost his top-100 rank towards the end of 2019 season as he suffered a few reversals, probably because of falling health of his father, who passed after losing a battle with cancer. Nagal and Ramkumar Ramanathan had failed to enter the main draw as both of them lost in the qualifiers.
Gunneswaran got a taste of high level tennis in his first-round exit from the US Open, losing to world number five Daniil Medvedev in straight sets in New York. The gulf between Prajnesh and top-10 players were wide and apparent as he lost 4-6 1-6 2-6 to the Russian, who recently vanquished multiple Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic. The Indian left-hander began aggressively but could not maintain intensity after losing the well-fought first set at Louis Armstrong Stadium on Monday.
Prajnesh will play Tatsuma Ito, ranked 22 places below the Indian at 144 in the first round. (Image credit: Getty Images)
The pressure induced unending unforced errors from Prajnesh, who was trying too hard. He had the heart to fight but lacked experience of playing at this level against the best in business. Nevertheless, the 29-year-old from Chennai competed in all Grand Slams this season, though he is yet to win a round in the singles main draw.
Long rallies featured from the word go, though, Prajnesh took some time to find his range. The Indian dropped his serve in the very first game of the match but broke back Medvedev in the fourth with a crushing inside-out forehand winner after serving at love. The Russian broke back immediately when he placed a cross-court forehand from baseline in the open court.