Prajnesh Gunneswaran is the lone Indian in the singles main draw at the 2019 Australian Open and the 29-year-old rues the sorry state of the game back home, which he thinks will not improve even if he pulls off a miracle to reach the final in Melbourne. Cricket lords over other sports in India and the country of 1.3 billion has no men or women singles player currently in the top 100 even though it has produced decent doubles players in recent past.
Reaching the singles main draw at a Grand Slam in itself is a success in cricket-mad India, which has only seen Yuki Bhambri achieve the feat since Somdev Devvarman played in the 2013 US Open.
Gunneswaran is India’s highest-ranked singles player at 112 and will meet American 20-year-old Frances Tiafoe, who is ranked 39, in his opening round on Monday after booking his spot at the year’s first Grand Slam through the qualifiers. “It’s a good thing and a bad thing,” he told Reuters in an interview on Sunday. “It’s good for me personally because obviously I get a bit more coverage and a bit more presence in the media. But I would also like to see more Indians in this part of the tournament, in the main draw, doing well, making it to the second week like we do in doubles.”
He dismissed suggestions that his Australian Open appearance could motivate more players in the world’s second-most populous country. “I don’t think there is any lack of motivation. We don’t have the system in place to produce players so no matter how much motivation is there we will not produce any players even if I make the final,” Gunneswaran said.
“Somdev has been 70 and we had other players in the past who have been top 30 but that didn’t produce another 100 players. I don’t think me doing something here will make a drastic change. It will change my life but when it comes to Indian tennis I don’t think so.”
Gunneswaran feels India’s search for quality singles players would not end anytime soon. “We need an entire system and infrastructure, from coaches to fitness trainers, a centre where the youngsters can go and play and develop and get better,” he said.
“We don’t have that kind of a consistent system in India. Here I am playing a professional event and I have to focus and do everything that I can to do well. Obviously there is a certain amount of expectation that comes with being currently the number one in India. I am going to step on the court and give it my best and hope that I can come out on top.”
Gunneswaran had missed out on playing in the French Open main draw last year as a lucky loser as he had left Paris to play a Challenger event. He is coming off a strong 2018 during which he rose to a career-high 104 in November following strong results and two Challenger titles.
The Indian did not have much idea about Tiafoe but knew he needed to be at his best to advance. “I don’t know too much about him. I have seen him on TV playing matches,” Gunneswaran said. “I know he’s very good, he’s top 40 for a reason. “I will have to play well to beat him. I will come up with a game plan tomorrow (Monday) and give it all I have got.”