Millennium Post

Pune Challenger: Prajnesh enters final

Pune: Prajnesh Gunneswaran earned a shot at a second consecutive title on the ATP Challenger circuit after conquering top seed Radu Albot in a

gripping semi-final at the KPIT-MSLTA tournament here on Friday.

Prajnesh, the winner of Bengaluru Open last week, had to sweat it out to beat the Moldovan 1-6 6-4 6-4 in exact two hours. The 29-year-old southpaw had lost to Albot at the Liuzhou Challenger semi-final last month and it was again a test of skills and nerves but the Indian came out on top

this time.

It is the second time that Prajnesh has reached the final at this tournament, having ended runner-up in the 2016 edition to Frenchman Sadio Doumbia. It will be the fourth straight year at the Pune Challenger that a home player is in the final. It was only in the inaugural edition in 2014 that no Indian could reach the final.

Fourth seed Prajnesh will now fight it out with Swedish third seed Elias Ymer, who sent packing Canadian Brayden Schnur 6-3 3-6 6-3 in the other semi-final. In their previous and only meeting at this year's French Open qualifying, Ymer had beaten Prajnesh in the third and final round.

Besides Prajnesh, the Indian pairing of Ramkumar Ramanathan and Vijay Sundar Prashanth are also in title contention after their 7-6(7) 6-0 win over Andrej Martin and Hans Podlipnik-Castillo in the semi-finals.

Albot came with a clear plan, hitting mostly on the backhand side of Prajnesh, whose forehand is fierce and strong. Albot peppered the Indian left-hander with shots on his backhand side and it worked immediately.

The Moldovan drew first blood, breaking the Indian in the third game and consolidated the break by serving the next game at love. He led 3-1, much to the disappointment of about 300 fans in the stadium and soon made it 4-1 with another break of serve.

Prajnesh had two chances to break back in the sixth but Albot did not let the Indian capitalise. Prajnesh's power-packed forehand was silent, not helping his cause as he made a lot of errors on his favourite stroke. However, the

Indian left-hander found his touch in the second set as he succeeded in involving Albot in long rallies.



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