By Vatsal Tolasaria – 10th August, 2018
Nitin Kumar Sinha is one of the names that comes to my mind when one thinks about the next generation of Indian Tennis players after the likes of Yuki Bhambri, Ramkumar Ramanathan and Sumit Nagal. Nitin, along with the likes of Manish Sureshkumar, Adil Kalyanpur, Siddhant Banthia, etc have to take the baton and move Indian Tennis forward.
Nitin has had a very successful junior career with multiple big trophies to his name, with the biggest one being the Asian Junior Championships win in Pune in 2017, the win that propelled him to the top 100 of the ITF World Junior Rankings. He has also won the Fenesta Nationals(Hard), Adidas MCC Nationals(Clay) multiple times, apart from representing India in the Junior Davis Cup. He was also part of India’s Senior Davis Cup Team as a hitting partner. He’s also taken part in the Junior US Open and Australian Open last year.
He talks about all this and a lot more in this candid conversation. A rapid fire has been perfectly slotted in at the end.
Nitin receiving his Fenesta Nationals trophy from Sports Minister Vijay Goel in 2016 (Pic Credits – The Hindu)
How and when did you get into tennis?
When I was 7 or 8, I was going to join Cricket. But they did not allow me, as they said I was too young to play the sport, since they used deuce balls.
So when Cricket didn’t work out, my Dad said why not just try Tennis. He had always liked the sport. So I started just for fun, but I liked it and kept on playing.
When did you realise that you’re good at this and want to make it your career?
I just kept playing ever since I started. Maybe when I was around 12 or 13, I won the U14 Nationals. That is when I thought I could be good at this.
Also, as a kid, I was always into sports in general. So it was pretty much an obvious path for me from thereon.
Nitin with his Adidas MCC Nationals trophy in 2016, where he beat Manish Sureshkumar in the final (Pic Credits – The Hindu)
Talk a bit about the coaches who have impacted your game right from your junior days.
I have not had any real coach in my entire career thus far. But Akhtar(Ali) Sir was there with me for about 3-4 years, from when I was around 13 to when I was around 16 or 17. But that’s about it. I haven’t had any coach per se, apart from him. I was with Gary O’Brien Sir too for a while.
You are among the handful of players who’s made the top 100 ITF Juniors in recent years. How would you describe your international junior career?
I hardly played Juniors. I just used to play the tournaments in India, and a couple here and there, in Thailand probably. The major reason I could break the Top 100 was due to that big Asian Junior win in Pune. That enabled me to play a couple of Slams as well. I could have been ranked a lot higher in the Juniors had I played the entire junior circuit around the world. But unfortunately, finances was an issue, so I had to limit myself to a certain tournaments. Also, men’s is the real deal. So I wanted to start focussing on it early.
Tell us a bit about your Asian Junior Championship win in Pune.
Initially, I was not supposed to play that tournament. I had plans to go to Thailand to play a couple of Futures. But then I saw that I would be Top 100 if I win the Asian Juniors, so why not give it a shot. I asked AITA for a wildcard, and they were kind enough to hand me a wildcard to play there.
Quarters was very close, I was down two match points and won it from there. It was an incredible feeling to win at the continental level.
Nitin with his Asian Junior Championships trophy in 2017. (Mihika Yadav on the left) (Pic Credits – The Hindu)
You played in the US Open and Australian Open last year. How was the Grand Slam experience?
That atmosphere is unbelievable. It is so good. You can feel the aura. The quality of players playing there is incredible. It was a really great experience. It showed me and gave me a feel at the top level. How a crowd can change the momentum of a match.
Although I couldn’t play my best tennis there, maybe because I was so overawed by the occasion. But it gave me a glimpse of how top level tennis feels like. I hope to be there playing pros as well.
You were part of the Senior Davis Cup team a couple of times as a hitting partner. How was that experience?
It was really overwhelming. When we were on court, with the entire crowd behind you, it pumped me up so much, even though I was not playing. It was a great experience, as you get that feel of being in the Davis Cup team. I could feel the goosebumps. It’s my first goal, to represent India in Davis Cup.
I had a good one week of practice and hitting with Yuki, Ram, Rohan, Leander, etc. All of them are really nice and had good things to say about my game.
Nitin with the Senior Davis Cup Team
You played against #ATPNextGen star Alex De Minaur in Junior Davis Cup in Australia. What did you make of his game then?
I played him on grass at the U16 Davis Cup. To be honest, he was good, but didn’t expect that he would turn out to be that good and crack the Top 100. I had lost 1-6 2-6 to him, I think. He has a really good fighting spirit, which shows now. He goes for his shots, and fights for every point.
Nitin along with his teammates Parikshit Somani and Siddhant Banthia during the Junior Davis Cup in Australia (Pic Credits – The Hindu)
Any interesting anecdotes from your early junior days?
So I played against Sumit(Nagal) at the U16 Nationals in Mumbai and lost 6-0 6-0. I was just 12, and I think he was around 14 or 15 at the time. He used to hit huge forehands, and I was blown off the court. I remember telling my Dad after the match – “Yeh toh bahut zor maarta hai”
You were a part of Vijay Amritraj’s Champions Tennis League(CTL) in 2016 along with the likes of Feliciano Lopez, Jelena Jankovic and Alex Corretja in your team. How was that experience? Any stories?
It was an incredible experience for me, to rub shoulders with the top players. I hit with Jankovic a lot of times, and she had very good things to say about my game. Even Corretja thought I am really talented.
I was shocked to see Verdasco’s gym routine. That guy is a monster. He works really really hard.
Nitin with Tennis legend Alex Corretja during the CTL in 2016 (Pic Credits – CTL Page)
How have you been able to manage your finances so far? Have you had any sponsors so far?
Tennis is very expensive sport as you have to travel every week. Naresh Kumar Sir sponsored me
for a few years in my Juniors, but only in India. But after that, in the Mens, I have been on my own, with help of my Dad. So no real sponsors after Naresh Sir.
You made your first Futures semis recently in Sri Lanka. Tell us a bit about your run there.
It was a good week actually. I played six weeks before that. I was playing well, but was just not clicking in tournaments. I played solid, was mentally strong, and that made the difference. I also had a chance in the semis, and I was really confident of winning the finals as well, as I had played the same guy last week. All this if I had I won my semis of course. But it was not to be.
You played a Pakistani in the 2nd round there. Did the India-Pakistan cricket rivalry have an impact here as well?
Not really. It was like any other tennis match. I just wanted to get the win and move to the next ground.
You, Manish, Abhinav etc are the next big hopes for Indian Tennis after Sumit, Sasi and co. How is the equation amongst you guys? How do you help each other get better and push up?
We are all really good friends. Whenever we practice/play sets, we always end up discussing about the game in detail. And also help each other with our weaknesses. That helps us all improve our games in unison.
You’ve mentioned that Vishnu(Vardhan), Saki(Myneni), Bala(Sriram Balaji) etc have helped you with your game a couple of times. Tell us a bit about that.
It’s mostly been Vishnu Bhaiya. I went to Hyderabad twice, and I stayed at his house. It was really nice of him to host me.
The first time that I went, before going I was injured for like 3-4 months. Yet he said that come down and we’ll practice. And I played the Chennai Nationals U-18 just after that and I won.
The second time was right before my US Open stint, I had travelled to train with Saketh and Vishnu. It was a great week for me, preparing me for New York.
Nitin with Vishnu(Vardhan) Bhaiya after their Asian Tennis Tour Final in Kolkata where Nitin prevailed
College Tennis would obviously have been an option for you. What is your take on that? Especially after Somdev, Saki success.
College tennis is a really good option. But for me, personally, I didn’t think I could keep up with both Tennis and Academics simultaneously. In fact, I got offers from Georgia State University and a few others offered me a spot in their rosters, but I decided against going.
What do you consider strengths and weaknesses in your game?
Strength I think would be physical fitness. I am very fit, and I can run around for a long time.
I am not sure if I have any real weakness, but I have the tendency to stay aggressive with my forehand and protect my backhand. But I wouldn’t call that a weakness. Rather, it’s more like a strategy for me, like many others. If I had to mention one weakness, it would be that I don’t come in too often. I would love to change that, and finish points early.
How difficult or different it is going from playing domestic tournaments/players to international competition.
The level of the game is much higher at the Futures. That is the only difference I think. So it’s like a different ball game altogether.
Nitin with Vasisht Cheruku and Alex Solanki during one of the Junior Davis Cup tours
Successful Indian junior players find it tough to transition to the regular tour once they are done with playing the juniors. What is he doing different to help him be more successful after he’s done with juniors?
I think it’s about the mental aspect. Staying in there is the most important thing. Being mentally strong and believing in yourself, since the Futures circuit can get really tough. Having the right work ethic and staying professional is also very important. Not getting carried away by a win and not getting bogged down by a loss is something one has to learn to do.
Rapid Fire –
|Racquet You Use||Yonex EZONE DR 98 Blue|
|Dream Mixed Doubles Partner||Maria Sharapova|
|Favorite Food||Butter Chicken and Butter Garlic Naan|
|Favorite Tournament||Adidas MCC Nationals in Chennai|
|Most memorable win of your career||Fenesta Nationals 2016. I had a lot of 6-0 6-0 wins|
|Celebrity Crush||Alia Bhatt|
|A place that you haven’t been to and would like to visit?||Switzerland|
|Favorite Shot||Inside In Forehand|
|Favorite Song||This Is Me and Ajeeb Daastan Hai Yeh|
|Cricket or football||Cricket anyday. I love Kohli|