Istomin’s success comes as validation for Prajnesh

January 20, 2017 01:51 am | Updated 01:53 am IST

After stunning six-time champion and holder Novak Djokovic in the second round of the Australian Open on Thursday, Denis Istomin said: “It is the biggest win for me. It means so much so now I feel I can play with these guys and be with them on the same level.”

In Chennai, away from the scene of action, the result was instilling a similar sense of belief in Prajnesh Gunneswaran. After all, he did pave the way for the Istomin show in Melbourne. In a way.

At the Asia-Pacific Wildcard Play-offs for the 2017 Australian Open, which was held in Zuhai (China) in early December, Prajnesh had held three match-points over Istomin in the semifinals, before the Uzbek squeezed out a 6-2, 1-6, [11-9] victory. Istomin then went on to beat Duckhee Lee in the final, to win his place in the main draw at the year’s first Grand Slam.

“I began nervously as he was the top seed, and had been a top-30 player,” said Prajnesh, recalling that semifinal against Istomin.

“He rushed to a 4-0 lead before I managed to pull things back a little.

“I found my rhythm in the second set and was beginning to play really well in the third. I could have finished it off when I was up 5-4.

“But we began to play really long games, and I couldn’t [keep up with] him at the end.”

Incidentally, Prajnesh had a one-degree separation from greater glory at the Chennai Open too, this year. In the final round of the qualifiers, he had stretched Jozef Kovalik before going down in straight sets, and the Slovak had gone on to stun top seed Marin Cilic in the second round of the tournament proper.

And, now, Istomin’s win over Djokovic has Prajnesh dreaming big. “Istomin is one of the best ball strikers out there.

“It shows that, on a good day, I have it in me to challenge the best players in the world,” said the 27-year-old left-hander, who is now ranked 319 in the world.

“His win definitely gives me confidence.”



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