For keen followers of Indian tennis, Arjun Kadhe is a name who they have been keenly following for the last year or so.. After being a promising junior in his early days,Arjun left for the US to pursue College tennis. His stint at the Oklahoma State University was stellar to say the least. He had a record partnership with Julian Cash and was only the second tennis player after Aleksandr Nedovyesov to be inducted into the Oklahoma State University’s Hall of Fame.
Now with hardly a year on tour after coming back from college, he is already the sixth ranked Indian tennis player at #364.With his strong serve and aggressive forehand, he is definitely a name to watch out for in the coming days.
Indian Tennis Daily caught up with him on the sidelines of Fergana Challenger where he opens about the role of his Dad in his career and gives us insight into College tennis and more.
Picture Credits – OSU Cowboys
Q) When did you start playing Tennis? What actually got you interested in the first place?
I started playing tennis when I was, I think I was 7 years old. My dad, he was a professional tennis player and then he started coaching. So I have been in and around the tennis courts when I was really really young. So that’s how I got into tennis and it started getting fun because my dad was a tennis coach, so he would take me( to the courts )and the game and so on. So it was pretty fun.
Q) So, you realized very early that you are going to make tennis your career?
Not really. I actually was just playing tennis, because my parents were like really into sports, they were like, okay our kid should play and what better sport because my dad is a tennis player. So, I started playing tennis, and when I was seven years old I played my first tournament at the under 8s which was called the Baker’s Basket. Then I won that tournament and I got my First junior racquet I could keep as a winner. So that made me really happy and I think that’s how things started. I took it very seriously from there. I started playing more tournaments and practicing more seriously.
Q)You mentioned that your dad was a tennis player himself. How big a role, has he played in shaping your game and your career?
Huge. Both my parents, they have been the pillars of strength for me all the period of time. Obviously my dad, when he was working in corporate he used to come pick me up from school during my lunch break, go play for one hour and then used to drive back all the way for 45 minutes to go to his office. So both of my parents have worked extremely hard, sacrificed extremely hard to get [ me] to where I am today.
Arjun with his Dad
Q) You had a great record in the juniors. You were in top 35(ITF Junior Rankings), made the Doubles Quarters at the Roland Garros. So can you share something from your junior days?
It was really great. It was a fun few years. I really enjoyed playing the juniors circuit. I really enjoyed doing well in it. Obviously, playing four Grand Slams is like a dream and it’s still like a very special memory in my head. That’s one of my motivations to work hard. Even to this date, to try and play the main Grand Slams one day is my dream. to you know to step on court. And you know if that happens ever, it’s a dream come true for me. It’s a long time but still it’s a long way to go. But that’s my goal. Eventual goal.
Q) You have mentioned before that you have also met players like Rafa, Federer, and Ferrer, I believe. So how was that experience?
Yeah, it was really good. I remember during the French Open, (in) the second Suzanne Lenglen court they have the juniors locker room. So I remember, Federer had just come in and his locker room was actually right next to mine. So I was like very starstruck and in the locker room he just coolly came in and they are not many people there, just the players. So I was just like staring at him. And after five minutes I realised I was staring at him. So I just stopped staring and maybe go and have a talk. And we spoke a little bit. So it was really a surreal experience for me.
Q) How did the decision of going to the US for College Tennis come about? What were the factors you considered?
Actually, it was a very tough decision for me to go to college to be very honest. It was a very close decision because I was doing fairly well before going to college and then I was not sure which college would, justify my decision of going there and would it be really good regarding the tennis coaching, regarding the players and all that was a new system. But somewhere down the line, I had the confidence that if I don’t go now, I probably won’t be able to go later. Because then the NCAA rules would have (changed), I would have had to stay away from the team and just study. So I didn’t want to do that. So I just took the chance and I was pretty lucky I think, to get into a good team at the right time. And I was very fortunate to have good teammates and coach and facilities. So it clicked for me.
Also, obviously before going I had spoken to players like Somdev (Devvarman) and Sanam (Singh), who had done well after college and in college. So that gave me a little more confidence that, yes more players can do that. Well, they have done and also come back as a good tennis player. [You can]Build yourself with the facilities and [get] the exposure to improve, which I had in mind.
Q) You mentioned the infrastructure and facilities. Can you give us some more insight into the tennis structure at the Oklahoma State University?
Oklahoma State [University], the year I went, I was very lucky to go at the right time because they just opened a new stadium for tennis, which had twelve outdoor courts, six indoor courts, hot tub, cold tub training facilities, a locker room, like everything under one roof. So that was really what I was looking for in terms of facilities ,like you practice you have your trainer, if you need the physio, he is right there and if you want to do weights or do fitness, your fitness coach is also right there. So you can do everything, whatever you want to become really good- It is available for you.
The only thing is, why people still think [if] the US is maybe a good option or not is, it’s your decision. If the player wants to work hard, it can be really good. It’s not like out of forces coming and or parents coming and telling you to get up and go to tennis. There is no one who is going to go and tell you that. If you want to do it, it’s going to be really good for you. So that’s one of the things, it is the question of whether the player really wants to work hard for what he is going there to do. If he’s clear on that I think college tennis is a great option.
Q) So did it(College Tennis) prepare you well for the pro circuit, on the whole?
Yeah, definitely I would say so.
Q) You and Julian Cash had a great doubles record and I believe both of you were very good friends from the word go. Can you share a bit more detail about your partnership with him?
We were actually roommates as well. We were (doubles) partners as well. We practically spent almost all days together. We got along really well on and off the court. That was the biggest plus point, as in we were good friends. So we didn’t mind each other’s company. We really enjoyed each other’s company on and off the court. So that made the difference and we both knew we wanted to take college tennis really seriously and we wanted to really do well. We tried to push each other to get better as a team. I think which helped a lot.
Arjun with Julian Cash (Picture Credits – Jacob Derichsweiler)
Q) Anything specific you guys worked on, which contributed to your success, other than your good relationship with him?
No, it’s just one of those things. I had a great relationship with everyone on the team. We both wanted to do well. That was our ultimate goal and when that is clear, then everything else just falls in place. So, it’s just respect and understanding. College is not only about studying, also playing and what not. It’s also about having some fun at the same time, enjoying the atmosphere, traveling with everyone. I think it was a great mix and also we were very lucky to be under the guidance of our head coach Jay Udwadia. Over the period we have had a few really good assistant coaches. So that was really helpful like Pepe(Caballero), Nate Feldman, Marek, they were just the three assistant coaches. So we were like friends and they used to make the sport really hard. So I think, that was the key.
Q) Are you still in touch with your coach and trainers back in the University?
Yes, all of them. I’m in touch with the most of my assistant coaches, and definitely the head coach. I’m still in touch with most of the players I have played with.
Q) You just described a positive team atmosphere at college. On the pro tour, you have to do everything by yourself. So was that transition difficult for you?
It was, but I was also kind of expecting it because you have an idea (that) it’s not going to be same as college and it’s going to be different. So you kind of prepare yourself mentally before. I was actually ready for what’s going to come my way. Obviously, traveling and everything is difficult but it was not something which I couldn’t handle. So I think I take it in a positive way and just look at it as the part and parcel of tennis.
Q) Any memories from college that you cherish a lot?
Me and Jakob(Sude) in the first year playing the NCAA semi-finals was really good.That one memory I still have. In the first year, we were the most under-ranked team. We played a top five team called Tennessee. I was playing the last match on and clinching the match for the team, for the home crowd in the new stadium, I think that changed the program around again.You have so many good ones, sharing the court with the teammates and also ranked number one with Julian was also a really good memory that still stays in my mind.
Q) You also made the Hall of Fame(Oklahoma)…
Oh yeah. That is true. That was also a big thing which not many people get a chance to go on the wall. That’s also a really cool thing for me to have. And also I wouldn’t want to forget the graduation, because College was not only about tennis. It was also a great day when I graduated, the graduation walk which was something special,which I was looking (forward to) from the age of a little kid – One day I will be a graduate and that would be great. I will also have something to look for apart from tennis. That was also a great day for me.
Q) The MSLTA has been doing a great job in the past couple of years. What has been their role in your journey so far?
MSLTA has been one of those associations which has supported the players from [a] long time. I have been one of the fortunate ones because I also have been doing well. They have always continued the support since I was under-10 (and) I think number one in the state. They have always lent me a helping hand. I‘m really looking forward to doing better and get involved in MSLTA whenever I can. So, I’m really thankful to MSLTA for looking out and being supportive of the players. This is the time we need the most support we can get, because it’s the time we need the most amount of financial support and everything that we can get to really make it to the top-200s and top-100s in the world. I hope that it keeps continuing and it keeps growing.
Q) So has anyone else been supporting you financially? Any sponsors?
My dad. Earlier, before College I had Lakshya, but I don’t have that anymore. Now I think Maharashtra Tennis Academy is opening up, so I think they have some plans of their own. We will know once it opens up. But as of now no, apart from MSLTA and Yonex was giving me racquets. But financially, there hasn’t been anyone else. So, it is tough.
Arjun with his parents
Q) You made you ATP Tour debut at the Maharashtra Open earlier this year. How was the experience playing at home against your compatriot Yuki (Bhambri)? What positives/negatives did you derive out of the experience?
It was great. The experience was great. A lot of positives. I played at home in front of a big crowd and also to play with world class player,[in] the doubles match we really played well, me and Benoit Paire. So it was a really good experience for me. In Singles as well, I played against Yuki (Bhambri), who was having a fantastic year. I knew for a fact that I can play that level. But the only negative is, I was a bit disappointed with myself regarding, I don’t know how to put it in simple ways, but I could have probably played a little better in singles. I thought it was not my best day, but at the same time, I fought very hard. It was a great experience, to be honest. That’s why they say the first time is always the toughest at the big stage. But, then you know the next time how it’s going to feel. I hope it gets better
Q) You mentioned doubles with Benoit (Paire), who is quite a character on and off the court. How different was it playing with him? How did that partnership come about?
He’s a funny chap. He loves to have fun on court and also a really talented player. So it was just amazing to play beside him and know, like what shots he can create from which ball and all that stuff. So it was really an amazing experience. Especially to play with him and to also know how he thinks. Because he’s played the best of the players. He’s played Roger(Federer), he’s beaten Rafa (Nadal) and all of those guys. So, it was a great learning experience for me.
Q) Any advise that he gave you?
He just said keep working hard, keep playing and try to enjoy. It’s pretty simple but sometimes simple works.
Q) With barely a year on the pro circuit, you have made tremendous progress. You have already broken into the top-400. So what are the goals you have set for yourself?
I had set a goal, when I played the first Futures, it’s just after college, saying if I break into the top 500 or 600 within one year (it will be good), which I have already done. So I’m pretty happy about that. Now, my next goal is to try and get as close as possible to 300 by the end of this year, because I will have to start defending soon as well. And also, closer to 200 in doubles would be my goal. If I could achieve that, it will be great.
Q) Can you share about your coach Hemant Bendre. Do you travel with your coach/trainer to tournaments sometimes?
I wish I did, but no it’s very expensive to travel with your coach or trainer almost every week. But I have played at the PYC and he’s been a great mentor and he’s been like a second father. He’s been in and around and involved with my tennis from a while and I think he’s always had fun with me and at the same time, he’s also enjoyed coaching. It’s never like really serious. He tells me whatever I need to do. It’s been pretty simple with him and I like him that way.
Q) As a 19-year-old,you were a part of the Davis Cup team. How was that experience? How big is Davis Cup for you?
That experience was really good. It showed me, what playing for the country really means and I’m very eager to get back into the team. I know I have to just hang around and I can’t get everything really quickly. It will come soon and I’m pretty sure it will come one day or the other. I will be really honored to play for my country again.
Q) Can you tell us something about your equation with Vijay Sundar Prashanth. You were facing each other in consecutive finals and you were also winning back to back doubles Titles partnering each other.
He’s a very mature guy. He’s been on the tour longer than I have. I think we share a really good friendship. It’s very simple, we try and go out there and give our best and when the match is done, keep it simple and have fun. So, it works out really well with both of us.
Arjun with VSP
Q) Any advise that you would like to give our upcoming players? Which areas do you believe that they should work on the right from the beginning?
I think it’s very important to really work on fitness because fitness is a big factor and also focusing not only on fitness but after, like the recovery part is also very important. I think it’s important to stay healthy on the tour. So I think those are the key aspects to focus on, from a really young age, which will help you a lot.
Rapid Fire –
|Racquet You Use||Yonex Ecore 98|
|Dream Mixed Doubles Partner||Ana Ivanovic|
|Favorite Food||Indian. I like Sushi too|
|Biggest win of your career||Back in college, a singles win that put us in the NCAA’s|
|Celebrity Crush||Anne Hathaway|
|A place that you haven’t been to and would like to visit?||Greece|
|Favorite Song||Perfect by Ed Sheeran|
|Best Friend on tour||Rohan Gide. He was on tour. But is not active anymore. But he is my closest friend|
|Tennis Idol||Andy Roddick|