BENGALURU: Prajnesh Gunneswaran found himself looking at two parts of his game in the icy chill of Atlanta, where he spent his off-season.
The world No. 128 had made successive Challenger finals in the United States, but his toss was all over the place, leaving the left-hander’s serve short of sting. And after two months on the road, which came at the back of six months away from competition, he was woefully short on fitness.
In his 14 outings in 2020, Gunneswaran faced 169 breakpoints, saving just 50 percent of them. In comparison, players ranked around 100 have percentages close to the 60-mark, often the difference between winning and losing.
Gunneswaran’s anaemic numbers on the serve might have something to do with rust. The 31-year-old hasn’t been serving at his best for a while, forced to deal injury issues in the fall of 2019, which left him short of matches. The six-month shutdown of the tours in 2020 as the world retreated from a raging pandemic only added to his woes.
The India No. 1, who played eight tournaments after play resumed in August, said, “Without my serve, which is one of my strengths, and also struggling with fitness, I was happy that I managed what I did in terms of results. I was able to fight and win matches. Mentally, I was where I wanted to be in matches.”
Speaking to TOI before he left for Doha to play the Australian Open qualifiers, starting on January 10, Gunneswaran underlined that he was ready to test his serve in competition again.
The Indian, aided by friend and Mumbai-based tennis coach Saurabh Patil, spent long hours on the court in Atlanta, sending down a couple of hundred serves a day, racket meeting the ball where it should, straying, straining, straightening. The consistency should come with the confidence that can only be gained by dictating play. As that improves, so will his accuracy and percentages.
The Indian, who was ranked No. 75 some 20 months ago and has noteworthy wins over the likes of Denis Shapovalov and Nikoloz Basilashvili at the Tour level, has yet to get past the first round in five Grand Slam main draws. He has fallen as much to his opponents as to tennis’ version of the marathon, the five-set puzzle, even before getting on the court.
Endurance drills therefore made up the better part of Gunneswaran’s off-season. “I have been constantly building on fitness and endurance. Maybe by the summer, I will be where I want to be physically. I feel really good, already, pushing my body as much as I can on a daily basis,” he said, adding with a laugh. “It’s like the hygiene factor, it’s a constant.”
SERVE & RETURNS (From Gunneswaran’s 14 tournament starts in 2020)
First serve: 61 percent
Points won on first serve: 68 percent
Second serve points won: 48 percent
Breakpoints faced: 169
Breakpoints saved: 50 percent
Service games played: 302
Service games won: 72 percent