India’s top ranked singles player Prajnesh Gunneswaran has qualified for his maiden Grand Slam after beating World No. 192 Yosuke Watanuki in the final round of qualifying at the Australian Open. He has found a place in the third quarter of the men’s singles draw and will take on America’s Frances Tiafoe in his opening round match. A win over the 39th ranked Tiafoe would set up a probably second round with Wimbledon finalist and Maharashtra Open 2019 winner Kevin Anderson.
"It’s obviously huge for me. First time ever in a Grand Slam main draw, something I have always dreamt of. I am really happy, don’t have words to describe it but it’s big deal for sure," Prajnesh told PTI. "I am very proud that I stuck to it and put in all this work. I got here much later than most people do. I had the tennis to reach here, now just need to rest and recover for the main draw," Prajnesh added.
In a match that lasted two hours and 11 minutes, Gunneswaran beat Watanuki 6-7, 6-4, 6-4 with the left-hander making sure a break each in the second and third set were enough to hold on for the win. The duo exchanged back-to-back breaks of serve in the opening set before it progressed to the tiebreak. At 6-6, Watanuki led 6-4 where Gunneswaran saved one set point but his drop shot didn’t come off to allow the Japanese to take a set lead.
Gunneswaran started brightly to convert the second break point in the first game of the second set and then faced just one break point on his serve to move along to 5-4. The Indian had two set points before he held his serve to level the match at one set all.
Stats from Prajnesh Gunneswaran’s win pic.twitter.com/Q3dimZ9Oz0
- Tanuj Lakhina (@tanujlakhina) January 11, 2019
The third followed the same pattern as the second with both players getting broken in the first and second game before Gunneswaran got the pivotal break in the fifth game. Once again, Gunneswaran had two match point chances – on Watanuki’s serve – but both went unconverted. However, in the next game, Gunneswaran with a deep return pushed the Japanese behind for an error on his backhand and stepped into the main round.
"It was nowhere near as good as I wanted it to be. I stayed tough mentally and fought really hard. I did not really play too flat, I felt a lot of pressure from the beginning to the end. In between I played very defensive, attacked here and there. It was more a battle of nerves. It was very close, the key was that I stayed tough throughout and I put a lot on the opponent and I did everything possible to find a way to win," said Prajnesh on the match.
Gunneswaran began his qualifying campaign by beating Serbia’s Viktor Galovic in straight sets. He continued his run with another straight sets win over Spain’s Enrique Lopez-Perez to move into the final qualifying round.
The 29-year-old had come close to making it into the main draw of the French Open last year. After multiple exits and pullouts from the main draw, the lucky loser had a chance to contest in the main draw but by then, he had already left Paris to play a Challenger event in Italy.
Gunneswaran had a remarkable 2018 where he won two ATP Challenger titles and became the new top-ranked player from India.
Other Indians Ramkumar Ramanathan, Ankita Raina had exited the qualifying draw in the second round while Karman Kaur Thandi failed to progress past the opening hurdle.