Back after a three-year break, Chennai player Prajnesh Gunneswaran is in the news with a fine showing in the recent ITF Men’s Futures tournament held in the city

In the country’s tennis circles, one could be forgiven if the name Prajnesh Gunneswaran doesn’t immediately ring a bell. For, the 23-year-old Chennai player has been out for close to three years tending to chronic knee troubles.

Ending his hiatus, he is now back in the news after winning an ITF Futures event and following it up with a semi-final finish in the next $10,000 tournament.

“I am happy with what I have done in the past two weeks,” he says. “I played just two Futures before this and was short on match practice. But, I fought well and played well. So it’s satisfying.”

Prajnesh initially made waves in the junior circuit, winning the under-16 national singles and doubles titles. In 2007, he bagged the under-18 title beating more accomplished names such as Vishnu Vardhan and Vinod Sridhar. In fact, in the under-18 final, he defeated Vijayant Malik, who has since turned into a Davis-cupper and is a regular on the country’s Futures circuits.

But for Prajnesh, his promising start was nipped in the bud. He was at the University of Tennessee but got out of college to play professionally, before injury hit him forcing him to spend the next three years in the wilderness.

“It was tough mentally. I had to undergo rehabilitation. The diagnosis took a while; so did recovery. Some would say it would be fine in a week, others would say in a month, but my recovery was prolonged and that was frustrating,” he says.

However, he doesn’t agree that the injury came at the wrong time and sought to see the positives the break provided him. He says that, in a way, the ‘so-near-yet-so-far’ pattern was good. If someone had told him that he had to wait for three years, he might have as well quit.

“I have not become worn out due to this [break]. I can play longer, may be into my thirties. I do wish I was somewhere else right now. But I want to look forward. The break gave me time to mature. Once you are outside, you are no longer a player. You are just watching which gives a new dimension to things and it has helped me.”

Those years, according to Prajnesh, were also well spent at the Schuttler Waske Tennis-University in Germany interacting with the coaches and training with top players such as former top-ten player Jurgen Melzer and Benjamin Becker.

“The coaches there believe in me. They give me confidence and even when there are setbacks they are there for me. That makes a big difference in addition to the training, fitness and expertise.”

Among the coaches who deserve a special mention is Bastian Suwanprateep who also coaches Prajnesh’s peers, Sriram Balaji and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan at the university and travels with his wards.

“He has been very patient,” says Bastian of Prajnesh. “He is dedicated and passionate. Others would have probably quit had they suffered such an injury. He has gotten it out of his mind. He has it in him to be one of India’s top players.”

With his career now seemingly back on track, Prajnesh’s immediate focus is on staying physically healthy for a full season and getting more matches under his belt. When quizzed about his long-term goals, he says he prefers to take one step at a time but adds that what ultimately matters is whether one can break into the top 100.

Too tough a task, one would say. He is currently ranked 668 — up from 895 where he was two weeks ago. But, whether he will make it to the top 100 or not, he is not one to go down without a fight.