Prajnesh Gunneswaran’s fan list is predictably growing with each passing day and heading the list is Vijay Amritraj who is of the view that India’s top player has it in him to rise to the top 50 in the ATP rankings. It is well over three decades since India last had a player in the top 50. Ramesh Krishnan of course had peaked at No 23 in 1985 and before that Vijay himself had peaked at No 16 in 1980.
In the last 25 years despite being the country’s leading players Leander Paes and Somdev Devvarman had reached a high of 73 and 62 in the rankings. So it will really be something if Prajnesh can make it to the top 50. At the moment he is still some distance away with a ranking of 82. But even that is fairly remarkable given the fact that he was 243 at the start of 2018. However the left hander from Chennai fully aware of the intense competition gave himself more realistic goals. Getting into the top 100 was the first priority which he achieved earlier this year. Then he was perched at 97 for some time before a brilliant performance at the Indian Wells Masters saw him reach a career best 82.
It is this showing in a star studded field that included the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic that saw Prajnesh attract considerable attention. Coming through the qualifying rounds he defeated world No 63 Benoit Paire in the first round and then got the better of world No 18 Nikoloz Basilashvili in the second round. This unexpectedly successful run was halted in the third round by the big serving Croat Ivo Karlovic. But Prajnesh has served ample evidence that he could well be India’s most successful singles player since Ramesh Krishnan and that is good news for Indian tennis.
Indeed Vijay never fails to drive home the point that India are not making progress in the Davis Cup because they do not have good singles players. Another to echo this view is Mahesh Bhupathi. India’s non-playing captain said that there should be at least two players in the top 100 after India went down to Italy in the Davis Cup play-off tie a couple of months ago. India does have one now but two other leading players Yuki Bhambri and Ramkumar Ramanathan are languishing out of the top 100. Yuki in fact reached a high of 83 last year but was not able to maintain this and has since slipped to 137. Ramkumar reached a high of 111 and then fell to 136.
In the Davis Cup singles play counts for four ties and doubles only one. This is the reason why India once regulars in the World Group have been languishing in the Asia /Ocenia regional group for some time now. India has produced some of the top doubles players in Paes, Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna but the lack of good singles players has meant that India has not been able to progress in the Davis Cup and why Indian players are unable to make any headway when it comes to the ATP Tour. Under the circumstances Prajnesh’s exploits come as a whiff of fresh air.