Indian Wells: In Prajnesh Gunneswaran’s efforts, expectations need to be tempered with pragmatism

And, then, there were three. These words could sum up the present state of Indian men’s tennis with Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Ramkumar Ramanathan, and Yuki Bhambri tautly holding the hopes of Indian fans. As welcoming as this is, there is also a certain element of surprise tacked to this, especially with respect to Gunneswaran’s surge through the rankings.

The lefty’s upward move is solely because of the consistency he has displayed in the ATP Challenger Tour. And while it did not go unnoticed, it still looked like it was happening on the down-low, away from the louder beats surrounding his two other compatriots’ progressions. Counter-intuitively, this has helped him to entrench himself more prominently in the eyes of global tennisdom.

And this week, in Indian Wells, he has been amassing more attention, with sharp and focused performances, beginning with the two qualifying rounds. His game, much like others’, has its share of strengths and weaknesses. However, what he has going in for him is that he can go toe-to-toe with the toughest of opponents throughout the duration of a match without fatigue tripping his chances. His results, especially this year – beginning at the Australian Open, where he came close to taking a set off Frances Tiafoe in the first round – have reiterated this, time and again.

It’s common knowledge that Indian players – in the last few years – find it hard to sustain their momentum if a match were to stretch out. Coupled with frequenting injuries – as has happened with Bhambri – even those who want to make it farther in singles find themselves being forcibly limited. In Gunneswaran, without trying to put the horse before the cart, hopes have risen that after the era of those like Amritraj, Krishnan, Leander Paes, and Somdev Devvarman, there is finally a player who would be able to come up trumps in singles. As it stands, thanks to his round-of-32 run (up to now) at the BNP Paribas Open, Gunneswaran has a new career high in the offing (#82, according to the live rankings).

However, in yet another paradox, despite such bolstering, this is not the time to heap on pressure on the 29-year-old. He has found his way and it is time to let him continue to do so, without tacking on the expectations of a country long-awaiting its tennis redemption. For now, the focus only needs to be about his upcoming match against Ivo Karlovic, an opponent who is making the most of his career in his own, distinct way.

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