Australian Open: Prajnesh looks for balance

MELBOURNE: Prajnesh Gunneswaran is happy, but he's far from satisfied.

But given the roller-coaster start to his career, more a downward spiral, his joy is contained. Some three years ago, at the age of 26, when Gunneswaran got off the blocks again, it was only to finish a castle he had begun to build as a child. Then unexpectedly, his knees held, the cracks of the stress fractures healed. From 1500-plus in the rankings in the summer 2015, to just outside the top-100 and a first main draw berth in a Grand Slam is one heck of a ride. And reason to smile.

In the first round of the Australian Open on Monday, the 29-yearold Indian will play, the soon-to-be 21, Frances Tiafoe, ranked some 70 spots higher than him in the rankings, in what will be their first meeting. "I'm really happy, I know I don't have 50 Grand Slams ahead of me, at best I have 5-6 years of singles on the Tour left. I'm only playing singles," he said. "I believe I can do something in the main draw. It is a tough main draw, but that's how it is in Grand Slams. I could've drawn Novak Djokovic and then I would've been hoping for a miracle. It is a big deal to qualify, but the tournament is not over for me. I've come close before, so qualifying feels really good."

Gunneswaran, ranked No.112, took a day off from practice after finishing the qualifying competition on Friday. "I'll prepare the best I can, the pressure is on him, he's the one ranked in the top-40," he said of the American world No. 39. "I've had three qualifying round wins, but it's best of five sets, the only time I've played best-of-five is Davis Cup."

Gunneswaran, who lost to American Michael Mmoh in the first round in Pune, said his form had improved in Melbourne. "I didn't play my best in Pune, but I played like I wanted to play, I went for my shots. I didn't execute properly in that I made too many errors," he explained.

"I want to approach a short ball aggressively, finish the point, rather than wait for three or four chances to do that. At the top-level, you'll only get that chance once."

The Chennai-based pro added, "For now, I would like to find a balance, understand when to attack and when I should hold back a little, because you don't want to throw away matches with too many errors. That's of course until I fully transition. I'm 29, older than most players at this stage of their careers, so it's smarter for me to play the tennis I'm capable of rather than get into a physical battle. It's easier to win with tennis, and more fun too."

Gunneswaran, a tall, lean construction, typical of a modern-day athlete, enjoyed the best win of his career in Stuttgart last year when he beat the world No.23 Denis Shapovalov in the first round on grass.

"I know I can play at that level, I've done it before," Gunneswaran said, "but the question is if I can sustain it for a whole match."