Interview with Purav Raja

Known for his deft touches and angles at the net, Purav Raja is one of the most exciting doubles players to watch on the ATP Circuit today. Still in his early days on the ATP Tour, Purav already has 2 ATP titles and 2 finals to his credit. He is the 4th highest ranked Indian on the ATP World Tour and has had a great start to the year by reaching the 3rd round of the Australian Open.

Purav’s entry into professional tennis came very late – after he had finished his college. He stormed onto the Indian scene by winning the Men’s Nationals. After having moderate success on the circuit in singles, his big entry into the ATP Tour came via doubles. Purav had a long and successful partnership with Divij Sharan before joining hands with the legend Leander Paes late last year.

Indian Tennis Daily caught up with Puraj Raja during his time at the ATP 250 Tata Open Maharashtra.

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Purav, with Leander, at the Aussie Open 2018

Excerpts :

(Q) When did you start playing tennis and when did you decide to turn professional?

I have been playing Tennis since I was 7 or 8 yrs old and decided to turn professional as I wasn’t good at anything else (sic). Honestly,  after I came back from college, when I was 21 / 22 and when I won the Mens Nationals, I decided that this is something that I should pursue seriously.

(Q) You played very little junior Tennis, only about 2 tournaments. Any particular reason for skipping the ITF juniors?

I was not sure then whether I wanted to become a Tennis professional. I was abroad in the US and England in school. The system was school and college based and I did not have many opportunities to play the ITF Jr events. There were a number of reasons but this was the primary reason.

(Q) Did you play the NCAA College tennis then?

I didn’t. I came to India just in time for the Nationals and won it. I continued from there on.

(Q) With a career high of around 800 in singles, when did you decide to shift the focus to doubles?

I didn’t. The rankings took care of it. I was stuck at around 800 in singles and made it to 120 in doubles. So I was moving up to the higher level challengers, my singles ranking wasn’t good enough to make it to the challenger qualifiers. It was too late to bridge the gap and I had to decide on which path I had to choose.

(Q) You had played against Nick Kyrgios at the Nottingham Challenger in the qualies, 2 months before he beat Rafael Nadal. How was that experience?

It was great. He is a very nice friend of mine. I was actually feeling pretty good as I had won a decent match the day before. He is one of the biggest talents I have ever played against. The guy didn’t give me any points and he was all-over the grass court like I have never seen before

(Q) With your physique, it is not ideal for a game of tennis as has been said. How do you manage to hang in there with the biggies of the game.

I bring different strengths to the game. I bring in a lot of physical power with my upper body strength and I am working on my lower body strength now. I use my physique to help myself as much as I can. Ofcourse, there are areas where I can be much better like the speed on the court and agility but I am better at the strength and power aspect of the game. I use that to my advantage. Tennis is physical in general. Everybody has their strengths and this is mine.  

(Q) Talking about your game, you really stand very close to the net as opposed to the other players.

I use my touch a lot. I read the game well and I try to use that to my advantage. This I think helps me in getting better and better.

(Q) Your highest ranking has been around the 50-60s and has been hovering around that region for couple of years now. What does it take to push that to the next level?

My highest ranking has been 52 and I would say is that I need to do better in all the Grand Slams and rise through the system. 50-60 ranking is very good but I would like to go higher and I hope to do well in the Grand Slams and the Masters events to make the next jump. In the higher Challengers or the ATP 250 events, you would gain by a 100 or 200 points which will make only marginal improvement at that ranking.

(Q) You had a very successful partnership with Divij Sharan. You won 2 ATP titles and reached the finals in Chennai. After you failed to defend the title in Las Cabos, what went wrong?

Nothing, everything was perfect. It’s just that we weren’t sure of making it to the US Open with our rankings. Then Leander came calling and was asking me to play. I told him that I didn’t know where it would lead. Leander wanted a longer commitment and I said, I’ll try my best and see how it goes.

We played 6 or 7 tournaments together and won 2 of them. It has gone decent so far.

(Q) At the French Open, you were serving for the match against the eventual champions – Ryan Harrison and Michael Venus. You lost the match and your opponents went on to win the Grand Slam, made the London ATP finals and so on. How tough was that loss?

It was very tough but it was fine. We got over it. We then did well at the Wimbledon and again had match points there against Rajeev Ram and  Raven Klassen and lost that. A number of things led together. Divij is a great guy. It’s just that the rankings and the situation didn’t allow us to play together at the US Open and thereafter as much. Maybe in the future, we will play together again.

(Q) Talk a bit about the Davis Cup playoffs against Canada. You seem to be having issues with your second serve. Was it a case of nerves of playing the first big Davis Cup tie for your country?

Not really. It was one of those things where I had to get used to what Rohan was doing and he had to get used to what I was doing. We got broken more than them. The court was very slow and the situation that we were playing in front of their home crowd. They were more used to that surface. Little bit of movement here and there can affect the momentum resulting in the break of serve.

(Q) You and Leander won the last two US challengers that you played. Can you share a bit more detail about the partnership – how are the things?

Things are good. We are still a new team and are trying to get better. Trying to improve certain things and its going well. Hope to go from strength to strength in the next few weeks.
(Q) Tell us a bit about your plans and goals for the new season.

It’s important for us to do well in the bigger tournaments to see us rise, to see us improve and get better as a team every day. If that happens, that will be more rewarding for me than the actual points.

(Q) You’ve been known to write blogs for the betterment of Indian Tennis. It has become less frequent now.

It is because I haven’t found the right time and the right mindset to write. These things require a bit of effort and I want to write with a bit of purpose. These blogs are pending for an year or two and hopefully I will have a bit of material for the next year and we can come up with 3 or 4 pieces.

(Q) How do you think Indian Tennis can reach new heights – not just in doubles but in singles as well.

The key is to bring in a good system that will work. Until we have that, it is not going to work. It is a long conversation but the key would be to bring in a good system.

Rapid Fire –

What do you do in your free time?Play Ukulele and Pool
Dream Mixed Doubles PartnerMartina Hingis
Favorite FoodChinese and Chai
Favorite SurfaceIndoor hard or grass
Favorite TournamentWimbledon
Favorite football teamLiverpool
The song that’s been on loop for you recentlyEd Sheeran – Bibia Be Ye Ye
Favorite country and why?Japan – Everything is organized, technologically very advanced
A place that you haven’t been to and would like to visit?Safari destination – Kenya or any place nearby
Best friend(s) on tourMore than one. I have quite a few. Lucky to be blessed with so many friends
Celebrity crushAishvarya Rai, Cameron Diaz

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