By – Vishnu Reddy, 15th June, 2018 [Support from Vatsal Tolasoria]
Bastian Suwanprateep, a name that Indian Tennis followers have become increasingly familiar with over the past few years. Bastian and Alexander Waske Tennis-University have had huge influence on a lot of our Indian players namely Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Sriram Balaji, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, Sumit Nagal and so on.
Bastian was kind enough to take time-out for a short conversation with us around his journey as a coach, the Alexander Waske Tennis-University, about Prajnesh, Bala, Sumit and the Indian players in general.
Important to note, all the Videos and Photos in this interview are credited to Alexander Waske Tennis-University
How did your journey as a coach start?
Basically, it started after I stopped playing, while I was studying. I studied Law, and to earn money, I started working as a coach simultaneously. It worked out pretty well for me. First I worked at one club, then two clubs, and three clubs, and gradually, I had 10 coaches working under me. So by the time I finished with my studies, I had like a small academy already. I realised that I was not one to sit in the office, and I had already earned a lot of money working as a coach, so I decided to follow my passion, which was tennis and coaching.
Then, Alexander Waske and Benjamin Ebrahimzadeh, opened the Alexander Waske Tennis-University 7 years ago in Offenbach, Germany, and asked me to join them. Since then, I have been with the academy for seven years now, and it’s like a dream job for me. We have a very passionate team of coaches, and we are doing really great work there, so yeah, I like it.
What are your focus areas as a coach in the academy?
It completely depends on what kind of player I am working with. It depends on whether the player is playing Juniors, or whether he is playing the Pro circuit. To start with, we check the player’s physique, his game-style and other things, and then take it from there.
So it’s really individual. Some player might directly need assistance with advanced techniques, while the other might need help with basic patterns on the court, so can’t really afford a common approach.
The Alexander Waske Tennis-University has a lot of Indian players training there. How did the association start?
It’s actually funny that N.Sriram Balaji was our 1st player at the academy. He’s going to be playing Wimbledon for the first time in doubles this year, and has also represented India in the Davis Cup a couple of times. He developed really well. The other guys probably heard from Bala about the academy, and then Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan came, then Prajnesh(Gunneswaran) came, and then Sumit(Nagal) came. A lot of other junior players followed suit as well.
Sriram Balaji (Bala) in beast mode!
Now, we have a very talented 13 year old player training there, who might be a future Davis Cup player for India. We also understand Indian players better now, because every country is different, every culture is different. And it’s very important to understand that. I think we now have a very good connection with the Indian players.
Coach Bastian with Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Sriram Balaji and others.
When did Prajnesh join the academy? What was your first impression about his game?
Prajnesh came to the academy six years ago, after he finished US college. He came injured, so it took us a long time to make him competitive. Both his knees were injured, so it took us 1-1.5 years to make him fully healthy to be able to play the whole circuit. But we could see from the start that he was a very talented player, with his huge serve and huge forehand. He is a tall, lanky guy, so you could see from the start that he could play well at the big stage. And I am sure that he will do that in the next few years.
Any specific areas that you are working on with Prajnesh to take him to the next level?
He needs to step in a lot more, use his big serve and big forehand. Basically take time away from his opponent. We are working on the mental side as well, to make him believe and trust on his strokes.
Prajnesh is mostly playing singles and not much doubles. This is a bit different from the other Indian singles players. Any thought process behind it.
I actually want him to focus more on singles right now. Save all his energy for singles. Actually, his doubles ranking is not all that bad, as he’s already ranked around 200 in the world. Probably the best ranking in the world for somebody who played so few doubles matches!
He can also be a dangerous doubles player though, if he can find a partner who compliments his game style well. Like with Bala, he did well in one of the Challengers.
Our main goal is to make Prajnesh break Top 100 in the next 10-12 months.
Initial impressions on Bala and about his progress
When Bala came to the academy, he was actually a small and skinny boy. So we had to make him a player, make him an athlete. We had to build a player, and that’s what we did. And look now, he’s a great player, great athlete, huge serve, very good volleys. He’s a complete package for a doubles player. He is focussing on doubles completely now, and I really think he will be a good future doubles player for India.
When did you all decide that Bala should focus on doubles solely? And what triggered this decision?
We made this decision in mid to end 2017, because it got tough in singles, and we really thought he had huge potential as a doubles player. Also,he could not afford so much training and loans to make it to the top as a singles player, as it’s so tough. But with doubles, I am so sure that he will make it to the top, so we made this decision together.
Sumit was also involved with your academy for some time. How was that association? Was Mahesh involved as well?
Mahesh was involved. Sumit came here when he was 16, and made the top 20 in the juniors. He won the Junior Wimbledon doubles, a couple of Futures titles. We basically saw through his transition to the men’s game. We worked a lot on his physique, he’s not that tall, so he had to be strong. We worked a lot on his backhand, because when he came here, it was horrible. He has a huge a forehand, but we had to make the backhand solid as well. He still can really improve a lot physically. But yeah, he’s also a very very talented player.
Video Credit: Alexander Waske Tennis-University – Vimeo Channel
Was Karman involved with the academy as well?
She was here for just two weeks. We worked with her on her clay game. During her time here, she won the ITF Juniors Grade 1 event in Germany, the biggest event that there is in Juniors in Germany. And then she left to Mouratoglou.
What kind of a program do you offer to talented junior players?
We offer all-round programs for juniors. We mostly work with U14 players who are not playing ITF’s. We help them get affiliated to German schools as well, or facilitate online education, so that they can continue with their education alongside. We are also focussing on ITF Juniors now, to make them transition smoothly to the mens. And we have a lot of professionals training at our academy too. So yeah, we have a very widespread range of programs at the academy.
We will never be a huge academy, we’ll always be at around 30-40 players, so that we can give individual player attention.
What is the difference you see between Indian kids and the European kids?
The first thing is to teach them how to train, how to be intense, be on the court, etc. That takes about a year or so for us.
Then obviously comes the technique. We need to show them what it takes to be a professional tennis player on the tour.
How involved was TNTA or Karti Chidambaram – was there any partnership or association involved?
Karti Chidambaram was here for a couple of times initially, but now, no partnership or relationship anymore.
You mentioned a 13 year old. Is it okay for you to reveal the name for us to watch out for?
His name is Hanu Patel. He will start playing ITF Juniors this season. He is another big prospect coming up.
Photo credit: Alexander Waske Tennis-University