Interview with Prateek Bhambri

By – Vishnu Reddy, 22nd June, 2018

Emerging on the Indian Tennis scene as one of the most talented players to watch out for in the early 2000s decade, Prateek Bhambri has donned multiple roles already in his very young career. From being National Junior Champion in multiple age group events, to being a successful businessman, to playing a pivotal role as a coach in 4-time National Champion Prerna Bhambri’s amazing run, to now being part of the Ahmedabad Racquets Academy producing and fine-tuning India’s finest upcoming talents – he has done it all.

Prateek, in this interview, took out time for us to discuss in detail about his playing career, business interest, experience of coaching / supporting Prerna and Yuki Bhambri, life as a coach at Ahmedabad Racquet Academy so far, thoughts on Tennis in India at the grass root level and on how he will be more involved with Yuki Bhambri in the future.

Lot of people have called you as one of the most naturally gifted players to have come up in the 2000’s. Coach Aditya Sachdeva Sir even remarked that your strokes are much better than Yuki’s (reference). What is your personal take on this?

I consider myself very fortunate to have been called the best by the top coaches of the country. I do remember them saying this boy is going to be the next big thing in tennis. My take – I’ve always had a fearless game style and wouldn’t succumb to pressure that would affect other players. This always helped me perform well.

Maybe I was just tall, strong and understood the game well. I can still hit the ball as good as I did back then, maybe even better ..haha..!!!

You had won several National Titles as well as been finalist in the various age group events – From the Nike Super Series to the Fenesta Nationals. What was your most satisfying run of your playing career and why?

Being crowned the National Champion was definitely the most exciting moment. Everyone wants to be at the top of the ranking charts and winning the most prestigious National Championship was a great feeling. Winning the National Doubles title with my younger brother Yuki is also a very fond memory from my playing days.

You hadn’t quite translated that talent into the ITF Jr Circuit success. What do you feel held you back in that transition?

Post my wins on the AITA circuit i had decided to move straight to the men’s events and skipped the junior ITF tour, hence I wasn’t very active on it.

You quit Tennis very early at the age of 16. What drove you to gradually lose that hunger for Tennis?

I have always been fascinated by the business world. Seeing my father run a business made me want to venture into it. I started going to the office at an early age. I kept playing tennis but before I could realise myself, Tennis started taking the back seat.

Your LinkedIn Profile reads: Director – Ivory Paper Traders. How was the transition into Business? Could you also share a bit more detail into your business career.

The company Ivory Paper Traders was set up by my father and his younger brother almost around 50 years ago. Over the years it has become one of the biggest names in the paper retail industry, supplying printing paper and packaging material all over North India. My foray into the business world started here with them, where I learnt all there is to learn, on how to run a corporation.

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Are you still involved with your business? If so how do you manage your time.

Oh yes very much. the rush of running a corporation is just amazing. It takes a lot of work, brains and dedication but it is very satisfying to run something of your own.

Around 2012, you started making the Pro Tour reentry as a coach. What went through your mind as you made this career shift?

Tennis has always been my passion. Something I really enjoy doing. Something I was good at. I wanted to share what I had learnt over the years of training and travelling on the tour. It was also my way of giving back to the sport that gave me such wonderful experiences.

Getting into a coaching role formally would have required you to do lot of preparatory work. What kind of certification programs or preparatory work that you had to do so far.

Coaching is totally different from playing. So I did a lot of reading about tennis. I did my ITF level 1 course too. I am also certified as a professional coach by the United States PTR.

But I believe my own understanding of Tennis, from my playing and travelling days really helped and molded me into the coach that I am today. As a former player, you know what a player needs to do, as you have been down the same path yourself.

26815268_10159834080755150_9040331276286752141_n.jpgPrateek Bhambri after getting certified by the US Professional Tennis Registry

Prerna had a stellar record from 2012-16 phase and she attributed most of her success to your support as a coach. How was the transition from a player to being a coach? In-spite of her being your sister, it still would have required you to have lot of patience

I feel it is tougher to coach your own sibling or children because they see you differently. The challenge was to strike the right balance between being a brother and a coach and I must say that i was  lucky to have a student like her.

You need to understand the psychology of the player. Their likes and dislikes. What mode of learning suits them best, how hard can you push them and not take it too far.

I believe coaching is not just the tennis aspect but the all round development of the person. A good coach is a mentor who doesn’t just take care of the on court performance but should also be mindful of a player’s overall development as a human. Respect is not a prerequisite, loyalty should be earned.

14524369_10157498272185150_3220387412745462206_o
Prateek Bhambri with his sister and 4-time National Champion Prerna Bhambri

How did your involvement with Ahmedabad Racquets Academy begin? What has been your overall role at the Academy so far.

My first interaction with Todd Clark happened a few years ago when he was coaching in Harvest Tennis Academy and they set up a boutique programme in Delhi. I was part of the coaching team here in Delhi. He has been coaching in India for a long time now and understands the working environment very well.

I have been very fortunate to have a Coach like him mentor me in my initial coaching days. He is the Tennis Director (and now COO) of ARA and the working relationship that I had with him took me to Ahmedabad. The academy has over 300 kids playing tennis there. We worked and travelled with the high performance (ITF playing) kids including Zeel Desai, Megh Patel, Kushan Shan, Krish Patel amongst others

26171138_10159769931295150_8299389350467959875_oPrateek Bhambri with Viplav Beeram and players from the High Performance Program

ARA boasts of several talented youngsters like you mentioned. Can you share a bit more detail into the High Performance Program and what goes into managing this best talent.

It’s a wonderfully curated programme for the kids which takes care of all the aspects of the game that a player needs, including their personalised diet plans, personalised fitness, media training and the sort. With planned sessions right down to the minute, it is a holistic system that has been created to make sure the kids grow in the right direction.

30167297_10160264834270150_7110479841103561282_oPrateek Bhambri with his student – Krish Patel after the U16 win at the Ravine Hotel NS 16 Tennis Tourney

You initially started with Shanti Club Tennis Academy (and Shekhar Menon sir) and then with the Team Tennis Academies under Aditya Sachdeva sir. Has your experience with both those academies / coaches played any role in your approach as a coach and how you prepared the setup at ARA.

Every coach has a different philosophy that they believe in. Everyone you meet, teaches you something new. Its about always learning and being receptive to new ideas and thoughts. It’s imperative that any coach plans according to the future the direction the sport will take. With the game of Tennis evolving so fast and the constant changes that keep happening due to the advancements of tech. What is tennis going to be like in 5 years from now? What game styles will suit players especially when the sport is changing so much to make it even more viewer friendly? What impact will television broadcasting have on the surface and speed of the court?

The relationship between the coach and the student too has also evolved over the years. From it being a one sided command from the coach’s side, it is now a very comfortable friendly footing that the kids of this generation share with their coaches.

Technology in Sport is rapidly evolving. Recently we had Stephen Amritraj’s Oracle UTR rating come up, Harsh Mankad’s startup ‘Tenicity’ focused on Analytics in Player Management. How has technology from a coach’s perspective evolve from your junior days till now and from your perspective, where do you like to see it emerge (or focus more) in the future.

With constant advancements in Tech which keep making inroads in the tennis world also, its imperative that any coach adapts their own style and methodology of coaching too. Especially when it comes to making use of these tools that we have today and with the understanding of the human body getting so vast due to science, the modes and methods of better and faster post play recovery and body rehab has changed tremendously over the last few years.

Back in the day when I used to train, we had never heard about releasing of our muscles with foam rollers but now every player spends at least an hour everyday doing the same.

As a coach you need to keep updating yourself, especially when it comes to new tools of the trade that might help in your player’s development. i personally believe coaches should be open to using all the new tech that keeps coming into the market as it really does broaden up the scope of new changes and improvements in a players game style and level of play.

Gujarat appears to have amazing support programs for its athletes. Can you shed a bit more detail in your experience there so far (vis-a-vis states like Delhi and others) which do not have the same support.

Gujarat has been giving a lot of support to their athletes and not just in tennis but in every other sport too. It’s such a boost for a player when they are recognised and appreciated by the government. The financial aid given to the kids enable them to pursue their dreams of becoming world class players and also helps them a great deal, especially to travel the world to play the ranking tournaments that they need to, on their quest to making their names in the sporting world.

Maharashtra too has been doing a lot for their players. It would be great to hear about more and more involvement in terms of aid to players from the corporate world too now.

Rohan Bopanna had recently mentioned that he took a food intolerance test (which shows Yeast as not good for him) which adjusted his diet and played a huge role in him getting fitter (reference). He said he wished he had known this much earlier. How has fitness, diet, conditioning and the overall non-tennis aspects evolved in the last few years?

A few years ago when the news came out of Djokovic keeping clear of gluten, the whole country went into a frenzy of trying to follow a gluten free diet. Not many realised that he is gluten intolerant and it’s bad for his body. Everyone in general and players more so, need to be aware about what really works for them.

You can’t run a petrol car on diesel. You need to know what works for your body and what doesn’t. I remember making Prerna take this DNA test and it really did help her to get a clear understanding of the things that she should be avoiding.

Coaches should encourage their kids to do the same as it sheds tremendous light on the things you should be doing as an individual. And not just for sports but it really does help you live a healthier and fitter lifestyle in general.

Led by Yuki, we are seeing huge uptick in Indian performances in the past year or two, especially in the talent pool. What do you think is driving this recent surge? Have there been any structural changes or talents coming up despite the system?

I think the success of Sania and now Yuki and Prerna has opened the doors of a proper sporting career for a lot of kids in Tennis. And with Saina and Sindhu doing so well in badminton too, parents now want their kid go go out and play a sport. I for one believe that every child should be given an opportunity to try their hands at a sport. It opens out a different scope and world of opportunities for them. Staying fit and away from the TV and Playstations is of course an added advantage.

It is often remarked that coaching at the Grass Root level in India has failed to keep in touch with how Tennis is evolving across the world. As a coach yourself, your take on this. If true, what can be done at the national level to bring about a change.

The scenario is definitely better than it was a few years ago. Coach education is a must. AITA has taken up a very good project of educating coaches throughout the country with multiple courses at different levels. Every aspiring coach should definitely attend these as they can be very helpful.

In my opinion, former players should definitely give back to this sport in whichever way they can, be it by working with new upcoming players or just mentoring them. The pool of knowledge former pro players of the country have can greatly benefit the next generation of players.

We should have more camps where the top players of every age-group come together and train.

If there is one player in the world right now whom you would love to coach, who would be that player?

I am happily working with and helping Prerna and Yuki right now. I will be travelling with Yuki for the slams and other ATP tour events.

Share with us – what is it like in the life of the day (and week, if your schedule/focus is different from day-to-day) of Prateek Bhambri.

From spending a few hours on the tennis court with Prerna and Yuki(whenever he is in town), to working out in the gym and then also putting in a few hours in the business. Weekdays are definitely very busy but fulfilling. Sundays are to just relax, chill and spend time with friends and family.

Rapid Fire

Question Response
What do you do in your free time? (Hobbies) I am a big music fan. I always have music playing around me.

I love reading too.

Favorite Author (if hobby is reading) Any good fiction or old epics
Favorite Cuisine / Food Italian, Continental and Mughlai
Favorite Surface Grass
Favorite Tournament Wimbledon
Favorite Sport / Fav player Tennis

Nadal- he’s just a beast

Favorite country you’ve been to and why? Austria – it was a family vacation.

It’s a beautiful country.

A place / country that you haven’t been to, but would like to visit 1. New York

2. A road trip across Europe is also something I’d like to do

The song that’s been on loop for you recently Bad at love- Halsey

Be the one- Dua Lipa

Ocean Drive – Duke Dumont

Best win of your career When I won the Nationals singles title
If you had to choose another profession, what would that be? Pilot for sure.
Your nickname Big Daddy. haha ..!!!

No one in my inner circle including my family calls me Prateek

Racquet that you use YONEX EZONE DR 100 BLUE
Most unforgettable travel experience 1. Holidaying in Hong Kong

2. Landing in the middle of the desert in Egypt

3. A two week vacation in Turkey

 

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