In­dia’s Gunneswaran rues sin­gles drought back home

Gulf Times Sport - - SPORT -

Pra­j­nesh Gunneswaran is the lone In­dian in the sin­gles main draw at the 2019 Aus­tralian Open and the 29-yearold rues the sorry state of the game back home, which he thinks will not im­prove even if he pulls off a mir­a­cle to reach the fi­nal in Mel­bourne.

Cricket lords over other sports in In­dia and the coun­try of 1.3bn has no men or women sin­gles player cur­rently in the top 100 even though it has pro­duced de­cent dou­bles play­ers in re­cent past.

Reach­ing the sin­gles main draw at a Grand Slam in it­self is a suc­cess in cricket-mad In­dia, which has only seen Yuki Bham­bri achieve the feat since Somdev Dev­var­man played in the 2013 US Open.

Gunneswaran is In­dia’s high­es­tranked sin­gles player at 112 and will meet Amer­i­can 20-year-old Frances Ti­afoe, who is ranked 39, in his open­ing round to­day after book­ing his spot at the year’s first Grand Slam through the qual­i­fiers.

“It’s a good thing and a bad thing,” he told Reuters in an in­ter­view yes­ter­day. “It’s good for me per­son­ally be­cause ob­vi­ously I get a bit more cov­er­age and a bit more pres­ence in the me­dia.

“But I would also like to see more In­di­ans in this part of the tour­na­ment, in the main draw, do­ing well, mak­ing it to the sec­ond week like we do in dou­bles.”

He dis­missed sug­ges­tions that his Aus­tralian Open ap­pear­ance could mo­ti­vate more play­ers in the world’s sec­ond-most pop­u­lous coun­try.

“I don’t think there is any lack of mo­ti­va­tion. We don’t have the sys­tem in place to pro­duce play­ers so no mat­ter how much mo­ti­va­tion is there we will not pro­duce any play­ers even if I make the fi­nal,” Gunneswaran said.

“Somdev has been 70 and we had other play­ers in the past who have been top 30 but that didn’t pro­duce an­other 100 play­ers.

“I don’t think me do­ing some­thing here will make a dras­tic change. It will change my life but when it comes to In­dian ten­nis I don’t think so.”

Gunneswaran feels In­dia’s search for qual­ity sin­gles play­ers would not end any­time soon.

“We need an en­tire sys­tem and in­fra­struc­ture, from coaches to fit­ness train­ers, a cen­tre where the young­sters can go and play and de­velop and get bet­ter,” he said. “We don’t have that kind of a con­sis­tent sys­tem in In­dia.

“Here I am play­ing a pro­fes­sional event and I have to fo­cus and do ev­ery­thing that I can to do well. Ob­vi­ously there is a cer­tain amount of ex­pec­ta­tion that comes with be­ing cur­rently the num­ber one in In­dia. I am go­ing to step on the court and give it my best and hope that I can come out on top.”

Gunneswaran had missed out on play­ing in the French Open main draw last year as a lucky loser as he had left Paris to play a Chal­lenger event.

He is com­ing off a strong 2018 dur­ing which he rose to a ca­reer-high 104 in Novem­ber fol­low­ing strong re­sults and two Chal­lenger ti­tles.

The In­dian did not have much idea about Ti­afoe but knew he needed to be at his best to ad­vance.

“I don’t know too much about him. I have seen him on TV play­ing matches,” Gunneswaran said. “I know he’s very good, he’s top 40 for a rea­son.

“I will have to play well to beat him. I will come up with a game plan to­mor­row (Mon­day) and give it all I have got.”

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