Australian Open 2019: India's Prajnesh Gunneswaran attempts to upset Frances Tiafoe on his Grand Slam debut
The world number 104 Prajnesh Gunneswaran is the only Indian singles player in the 2019 Australian Open. He is pitted against the world number 39 American Frances Tiafoe.
If you go purely by ranking, Tiafoe is the overwhelming favourite. He is widely considered as America’s next big hope in men’s tennis. At age 20, he is the fourth youngest player in the top 50 right now, and has already won an ATP title.
On the other hand, this is Prajnesh’s first Grand Slam event. He was unlucky to miss out on playing in last year’s French Open; a spate of late withdrawals had given him a chance to play in the main draw as a ‘lucky loser’, but by that time he had already left Paris to play in a Challenger event.
For many tennis players, getting to play in a Grand Slam in itself is a dream. So the unfortunate nature of missing out on his maiden Slam entry could have had an adverse impact on his psyche.
But he took it on the chin and kept improving his ranking by playing in as many tournaments as possible. It was also to his credit that he prioritized national interest over his personal benefit when he decided to skip the US Open qualifying matches so that he could play for India in the Asian Games, where he won a bronze medal for the country.
His ranking has continuously improved since the French Open and he is ranked at a career high world number 104 right now. He may be coming to the match against Tiafoe as the underdog, but he certainly has it in him to cause an upset.
His win over another next gen star Denis Shapovalov last year shows that he can get past more fancied opponents. Over a five-set period though, it may be a tougher challenge.
But apart from his never-say-die attitude, what may also go in his favour is the fact that by having to play three games on the trot in the qualifiers, he has got used to the conditions and the nature of the court. That could give him a bit of an advantage over the young American. And if he can reduce the number of unforced errors and play a steady game, he could play on the patience of the 20-year-old.
If he plays his best tennis and the American’s level drops a little bit, Prajnesh could do in his first attempt what Yuki Bhambri could not do in four attempts in 2018 – win a Grand Slam singles match!