He always said his first goal was to get into the top 100 of the ATP rankings. And now that he has achieved that – he is perched on No 97 in the current rankings list – Prajnesh Gunneswaran will no doubt set his sights higher. It will not be easy in a fiercely competitive field and Prajnesh is aware of the tough task ahead. He just has to look at the fortunes of two of his colleagues Yuki Bhambri and Ramkumar Ramanathan. Not too long ago Yuki reached a high of 83 while Ramkumar had a best of 111. But they found it hard to stay at these spots. Yuki is currently ranked 137 while Ramkumar too has slipped to 133.

So does Prajnesh have it in him to stay in the top 100 for an extended period and then looking further ahead to rise in the rankings? Standing over six feet and looking fit he has the game at least for a slow and steady rise and it all depends on how hungry he is for success. At 29 he does not have time on his hands and will have to move quickly if he is to make a considerable impact. But at least he is on the right track and the steady improvement is underlined by his maiden entry into a Grand Slam. Last month he won the qualifying competition to make his debut into the main draw of the Australian Open. He however went down in straight sets to 29th ranked Frances Tiafoe of the US.

Actually Prajnesh should have made his Grand Slam debut last year but was a trifle unlucky. At the French Open he lost in the final qualifying round. However, he was chosen as the lucky loser after Nick Kyrgios of Australia withdrew from the competition. But Prajnesh could not participate in the main draw as he had already left Paris before Kyrgios announced his withdrawal thus missing out narrowly on making his first main draw appearance at a Grand Slam.

Indeed 2018 was a breakthrough year for Prajnesh. At the start of the year he was world No 243 but a series of commendable performances saw him end the year on a career high ranking of 104. He reached four ATP Challenger finals winning two of them. He won his first ATP Challenger title at the Kunming Challenge in China defeating Mohammed Safwat of Egypt in the final. Then in an all Indian final he defeated Saketh Myneni at the Bangalore Challenger. He finished runner-up at the Ningho Challenger in China and the Pune Challenger events. And in August he won the bronze medal in the men’s singles event at the Asian Games in Jakarta.

So it can be seen that Pranesh has made steady progress over the last year. But from now on the climb will be that much tougher and it remains to be seen whether India’s leading player can rise to the occasion.

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