By – Vatsal Tolasaria, January 5, 2018
This man needs no introduction. He’s had quite an eventful career so far, winning the Junior Australian Open in 2009, being Junior World Number 1, then breaking into the top 100 of the ATP Rankings at the end of 2015. And right when he looked all set to make the big jump in 2016, he got injured.
That has been pretty much the story of his life on tour so far. But with an improved fitness and training regimen, he’s ready to take on the world this year, with a heck of an off season at the Impact Tennis Academy in Thailand behind him.
Indian Tennis Daily got a chance to interact with him on the sidelines of the ATP 250 Tata Open Maharashtra, right after he lost narrowly to 8th seed Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Q) After winning the Junior Australian Open in 2009, and dominating the Junior Circuit, what were the goals you set for yourself as a pro?
Well, feels like a very long time ago(laughs). Obviously the goal is always to get into the big events, play at the Slams, be in the top 100 or the top 50. That’s what every player’s goals are, and those were mine too. As a junior I think I did fairly well, so the goal was to accelerate and get there as quickly as possible.
Q) At that time you were supported by the Mahindra group, and it suddenly stopped. Then you had to resort to crowdfunding. How was that experience?
Well it clearly did not work out. That was one of the last sponsors I had financially. Mahindra had supported me for about a year or too. So apart from that, I have been pretty much on my own. There has been a little support from the government here and there, but I have been out there to fend for myself.
Q) Do you think your journey would have been different if you had full-fledged financial backing. Say a travelling coach/physio throughout?
A lot. I think a lot could have changed. I think if there was someone on the journey guiding me from the start, it would have made a huge difference. The things that I am learning now, could have probably learnt it at the age of 18 or 19. Obviously, having that kind of support helps. You’ve seen how well a system in the States or a system in Australia and Spain has produced players. Unfortunately, India doesn’t have that. In tennis at least, you don’t have such kind of a system in place, where we churn out tennis players. Everybody is pretty much by themselves.
Q) You’ve seen your contemporaries like Sock, Tomic, Krajinovic, Harrison make it big at the top level. Does that give you added motivation?
I think I have always believed that I can play at the top level. I have done it here and there, I just need to get more consistent with it. Injuries haven’t helped and have pulled me back. But I feel better and I feel healthier. So I am hoping this could be one of the years where I can really make a push towards the top 70 or top 80 in the world.
Q) Talking about your serve, you had a stint with Taylor Dent which had helped you better your serve. Are there similar plans in the future?
I think that was more of a one time thing. It definitely helped me. But there are not any such plans as of now.
Q) A lot was talked about your win against Monfils. But tell us a bit about your very close loss against Damir Dzumhur in Moscow. You had beaten him at the Youth Olympics, and then he went on to win the title in Moscow. How tough was it?
I think it shows you how close one really is. It’s not that much of a difference in the level of play. Of course the ranking is 30 and I am at 120, but after a certain point in time, it isn’t much of a difference. It’s just one or two points here and there. I think a lot of positives from that match, specially after seeing that he went on to win the title there. So I just want to give myself those opportunities again.
Q) You’re sporting a slightly bulkier and a leaner look from say the Yuki in 2010 or 2012. Has there been a specific training regimen you’ve been following?
Once I came back from my elbow injury, it was something I personally wanted to do. Lean up a little bit, it helps me move a lot better. I am getting to balls now much earlier, and it gives me time to do more with my shots. I’ve been able to play the whole of 2017, and for the first time I think I’ve had a proper off-season, where I have put in the work and gained something, and not spend time on rehab. Having those three weeks of running and lifting weights has definitely helped. Just hope that it will help me to achieve my goals and help me play as much as I can.
Q) With your current ranking, will there be a conscious effort to play the ATP Tour event qualies rather than focusing on Challengers?
I’ll be focussing on the ATP 250’s as of now. But I will slot a few events in depending on the schedule. Right now, I have the Australian Open Qualifying obviously, then I go to Europe for a few events end of this month.
Q) Your coach from the Impact Tennis Academy, Stephen Koon, is travelling with you this week. Will he travel with you throughout the year?
Yeah he’s here this week. My trainer Abhimanu Singh is going to travel with me throughout, but Stephen is going to be with me for the big events. He’s more involved with Rendy Lu(Yen Hsun Lu), so whenever we play in the same events, he’s going to be there helping me too.
Q) Do you manage to find time to follow the progress of fellow Indians while on tour?
If they are around, you obviously have an idea of how they are doing. You see the doubles guys doing so well, Rohan, Divij etc. We play the same tournaments quite often. Ram I think is similar ranked, so we get to play a lot of the events together. You read about Rohan doing well at the big events. To an extent, I am aware of how the other players are doing as well.
Rapid Fire Questions
|Dream Mixed Doubles Partner||Martina Hingis|
|Things you do when you are free||Play another sport, usually cricket|
|The song that’s been on loop for you recently||Despacito|
|Cricket or football||Cricket. I love Tendulkar|
|Celebrity Crush||Alia Bhatt|
|Favorite country you’ve been to and why?||London, UK because of it sporty nature|
|A place you haven’t been to but love to visit||Cape Town, South Africa|
|Favorite tournament||Australian Open|
|Best friend on Tour||Michael Venus and Saketh Myneni|