Coming from a family of Lawn Tennis & Table Tennis champions, Prerna Bhambri has been one the leading players of Indian Womens Tennis of this decade so far. Prerna holds the distinction of being crowned the Indian National Champion a record 4-times (next highest being 3).
Starting early in the famed Team Tennis Academy under Aditya Sachdeva, Prerna Bhambri has achieved a career high ranking of #358 and has been the Indian No.1 already. She has 8 ITF titles to her credit (5 singles, 3 doubles) and has played stellar role for India in the Fed Cup (including wins over players like Galina Voskoboeva and Sabina Sharipova).
Ill-timed injuries have halted Prerna’s progress just as she was making the next jump in her career. As she works towards getting into her best rhythm this year, Prerna took out some time from her schedule to do this interview with us. Excerpts below
Featured photo credit: Sporting India
You come from an illustrious family of Tennis champions with your brother and cousins being such special talents. How did Tennis even begin in your family (and later onto you)? When and where did Prateek and you start in Tennis?
Two of my eldest cousins (Ekta and Esha) used to play Table tennis and had become national champions at a very young age. That’s how sports actually started in the family.
Ankita’s parents wanted to put her in Tennis as they wanted to try out a different sport. Sanaa, Prateek and Yuki followed.
I would go and watch them play in Shanti Sports Club every evening. Watching the elders play pulled me to the tennis courts too.
You / Prateek had reached the All-India U-14 Nike Super Series finals back in 2005. Yuki was the other finalist. Poor Kyra was the odd one out! It must have been a nice family occasion – must have been a proud moment.
It was actually a great experience for all of us. That tournament used to be a very exciting prospect as the winners and the finalists would then move on to play the masters in Bangalore.
Kyra has always been a great friend since the very initial tournament playing days of ours. So to have her also there made the occasion even more fun.
You started representing India in the ITF U14 / World Juniors Competition in Bangkok/Jakarta. It was probably your first experience playing for the country and competing in Tennis events abroad – how was that journey?
Initially we were about 20 girls who were called for a camp. Out of which 3 were to represent India to play in Belgium, Bangkok and Jakarta. I consider myself very fortunate to have been selected. It is the greatest honor for any sportsperson to represent their country. It was also the first time that I had travelled abroad for a tournament. I was the runner up in Belgium in doubles along with Adnya Naik at the Antwerp Diamond Trophy.
Later that year I was also selected to participate in the Head Elite Cup held in Barcelona and was the runner up in singles. Been given the opportunity at such a young age was a huge moral booster.
Your brother Prateek was a Junior National Champion, rated highly by Aditya Sachdeva sir as well. He quit Tennis very early to focus on business. It must have been a tough decision collectively for your family. This was in late 2007 and you were just 17, it may have impacted you too. Can you share a bit of detail and what kept you going? Was there any indirect pressure for you?
Prateek was a naturally talented player. The way he understood tennis and the way he hit the ball was unreal. But he felt the business world was more exciting and he switched to it very early on. I still think he could have been a great player if he would have continued.
But my Mum and Dad have always been extremely supportive of every decision we have made. They’ve always said we should be happy in whichever field we choose and their support and motivation has been the backbone of every decision that we make.
It was around the same time in 2007 that you had two back-to-back ITF titles in Chennai & Hyderabad. They were your first taste of being the winner. It must have been a huge confidence booster. How special were those wins?
Winning an International title can be extremely motivational for any Sports Person and that’s exactly how I felt after winning those tournaments. The wins excited me and made me want to perform better and better.
You have been associated with the Team Tennis academies / Aditya Sachdeva for a long time. You also had several of your co-players coming from the same academy. Who are some of the people from that setup (with you in the academy) who had big influence on your career?
Team Tennis under Aditya Sachdeva Sir has been a great place to train for the whole Indian Tennis community and most of the Indian players have played here at some point of time.
Watching Prateek, Yuki, Sanaa and Ankita perform in Tennis has been a major source of inspiration for me. We still keep pushing each other even though we are all always away.
Yuki and Sanaa are currently in USA. Ankita is in Delhi. I have been travelling for the past 3 weeks and Prateek is working with a few players in Ahmedabad.
Facetime definitely makes life easier :d
You had your crowning moment in Juniors when you played the Australian Open in 2010. Was it a big motivation for you in the Juniors to make it to the slams? How was your experience being in Melbourne and playing on such a big platform?
[Team Tennis Academies and Australian Open appear to have a close relationship. Yuki did well in the previous 2 years, including winning it and then Rishika played there for the next 2 years]
Playing the Australian Open was like a dream come true. Every tennis player aims to play at the slams. The atmosphere is so electric. There is just a different energy at the venue.
Yes, the Australian Open is very close to our hearts. It was my first slam and we all know about Yuki’s win there 😉
During your Junior career, you traveled quite extensively across India and a bit in South East Asia / Australia. Life on the road is tough especially in Tennis, where everything is so competitive and you are pretty much left to fend for yourself. What has been your support system like during your Junior days?
It’s literally like living out of a suitcase. People see the glamour attached to a sport like Tennis but don’t see the other hard side of it. It’s a very tough sport to cope with. You are always on the road. Airports start feeling like home. You are in a different city/country every week. I am lucky enough to have a very supportive family who help me through it.
Your initial foray into Pro tennis had overlapped a bit with Ankita / Sanaa and you ended up facing Sanaa a few times / losing to her. Must have been fun to play against your Cousin.
It was always exciting to have them in the same tournaments. You learn a lot playing better and tougher opponents. We of course would have a nice laugh about the match back home, but it was serious Tennis on court.
You had your first major breakthrough in the year 2011 with your first ITF Pro Circuit title in Delhi (beating No.1 seed and top-400 player: Keren Shlomo, Israel) and then the Fed Cup representing India in China. How were those two experiences like? You had two tough years before that.
That was a very special win as it was also the first match my Grandparents came to watch me play. Getting selected to represent the country was a crowning moment. Nothing can compare to the feeling you get when you don the country colours and step out on the court knowing that you are playing for the flag. It’s the highest form of glory.
You were really dominant in India after that – winning 4 Fenesta Nationals (2012-15) on the trot and dominant record on the ITF events in India – What catapulted the rise?
All thanks to my brother, Prateek. That’s when he decided to foray into Tennis coaching and he worked with me closely. His knowledge and expertise was the turning factor. Prateek started coaching me about a month before my first national title. It was his confidence that gave me the extra edge to lift the title. There was no turning back from there.
It’s always great to have someone who understands the game so well and has played at that level to guide you. To have him manage, train and even travel with me was invaluable.
Prerna Bhambri – Fenesta Open National Championship Winner, 2015. Also seen is Sriram Balaji, Mens Champion [Photo credits: Zee News]
You had your next ITF title in Gulbarga and around the same time, you became the Indian No.1. Big milestone for any player.
It was a great feeling to be at the helm of the ranking charts of the country. It was definitely a very proud moment for me and the family. That’s one milestone every kid who gets into sports wants to achieve, to be on the top was very motivating and made me want to push even harder.
Prerna Bhambri with the ITF trophy in Gulbarga. [Photo credits: Sports Rediscovered]
You had another milestone moment with the Indian Fed cup team in early 2016 where you had heroic wins over Sabina Shapirova and Galina Voskoboeva to hand India crucial wins (along with Ankita Raina). What fired up the Indian Team so much in that event? Ankita Raina too had pulled off some sensational upsets.
2015 was a good year for me. I won 3 singles and 2 doubles titles that year reaching a ranking of 358 which enabled me to represent India in 2016. Playing for your country gives you that extra something you need to give it all you have. We weren’t playing for ourselves but for the glory of our flag and that’s what brought out the best in us.
You carried this momentum into ITF events abroad too and had some of your best results outside India till mid-year then. However you took a few months and upon return – haven’t been able to replicate the same form. What happened there?
Unfortunately for any Sportsperson, injuries can be a major setback.
I remember I was in Hong Kong and my shoulder started to strain during a Quarterfinal match. Even though I managed to win the match, by the next day I couldn’t move my arm and had to withdraw from the tournament. I had to eventually sit out for 7 months because of the injury.
I have been working hard on my fitness these past few months and am raring to get back into my winning form again.
You have one of the most dominant records amongst Indian girls in Futures in India but have never quite made the transition to the $25K events – How do you assess your game from this perspective?
I was close to breaking into the top 300 and had started to get into the bigger events and was playing very confidently. But then had to sit out because of the injury. But hopefully all that should change soon.
Tennis is a very expensive sport. Can you share a bit more detail on any sponsor support that you have received ?
Finances play a major role in a players life. It’s very expensive to travel around the world to play tournaments. There is only so much a player’s family can do. For any professional player , the average annual expenditure is Rs 30-40 lakhs a year. So unless you have a sponsor, it gets very hard to continue spending so much year on year. This is where the Corporates need to come in and help upcoming players of the country. I have been associated with Yonex for equipment and apparels for the last two years.
The younger girls now are extremely lucky as most of them have Corporate or Government sponsors backing them. But neither Ankita, Sanaa nor me had any such support.
You have traveled all across India, south-east Asia, Egypt, Uzbekistan and Australia playing Tennis. There must have been lifetime memories / experiences that you may had as part of this journey. Any interesting experiences?
I think Tennis has been a life changing experience. To travel to so many new countries on a weekly basis and to meet so many new people from such diverse cultures has been amazing .You learn so much about yourself and the world while being on the road. Some of the most underrated countries in the world can pop up the most surprising adventures.
Landing in the middle of a desert in Egypt is one such thing people generally don’t get to do. I feel so lucky to be playing this wonderful sport and to have such a supportive family.
|What do you do in your free time?||I love watching Movies and spending time with family and friends. But free time is hard to get.
After doing an MBA in Human Resources, I am now pursuing another Masters in International Relations.
|Dream Mixed Doubles Partner||Roger Federer <3|
|Favorite Tournament||Australian Open|
|Favorite Movie||All SRK movies|
|Favorite country/city and why?||Hong Kong and South Korea. The cultures and the people are just amazing|
|A place that you haven’t been to and would like to visit?||Switzerland and Greece|
|Racquet that you use||Yonex DR 100 Blue|
|Favorite Actor||SRK, Siddharth Malhotra <3|