Interview by Sanketa Anand, Business Strategist based in Singapore
Nikita Uberoi, an Indian-American athlete, is steadily making a mark for herself on the Pro tour. Sister of former Indian No.1 Shikha Uberoi and Neha Uberoi, Nikita is at her career high rank of 837 and has a goal of entering the top-500 over the next year.
Nikita graduated from an Ivy League school – Brown University and was hit by injuries soon after she turned pro. Playing full-time from the past year, Nikita has been making steady progress on the Pro Tour.
Sankta Anand had an opportunity to catch up with Nikita in Singapore while she was playing there as part of the Asian Circuit this summer.
This is a continuation of our series on highlighting athletes of Indian origin while focusing on the Indian players. Read some of the other interviews below
- Interview with Laxmi Poruri, the player who defeated Monica Seles to win the Orange Bowl and reached US Open R2 as a 15-year old!
- Govind Nanda – Indian-American making waves in US Tennis
- Neha Uberoi: On her journey as a South Asian girl into the top-200 WTA ranking
You have 2 elite players as your sisters – How was that initial journey, and your experience playing alongside your sisters?.
It was advantageous to have 2 sisters before me who took this path. Neha and Shikha had both gone to college for a year before pursuing Pro Tennis for 6 & 10 years respectively. When it was my turn to make a decision – after seeing their journeys and with the average age of tennis players rising – I felt that finishing college before starting on tour was the right step for me. My sisters encouraged me in this direction as well as they felt that I would be better prepared for the rigours of the tour.
My sisters have been my biggest support system as they know the ins and outs of this journey. Shikha and Neha will train me or travel with me from time to time but learning from their positive and negative experiences has been invaluable.
Are they your biggest critics as well?
They are hard on me at times for not knowing better, especially on things that they have gone through. They try to ensure that it’s a positive journey for me and that I am always mentally and emotionally grounded. Mostly they’re just happy for me to be having such a positive experience on tour. They’re my biggest cheerleaders.
In the interview with Neha Uberoi, she had mentioned in detail on the role played by your father Mr Mahesh Uberoi – Whats the role played by him and is he actively guiding you on your playing career?
My father is my biggest supporter and believer. He is always there to motivate and guide me on court and is always seeking the best resources to help me improve. He is very positive and has an unwavering belief system.
With Shikha and Neha he traveled a lot more on tour. However, my journey has been a lot more independent. He will travel with me from time to time which I enjoy, we get along well. Mostly he keeps an oversight and helps me manage my career.
How did you manage Tennis and Education together during the College tennis days?
Going to an Ivy league school, it got challenging at times. There were some all-nighters followed by matches. However, I was able to get through it following the same work ethic that was instilled in my sisters and I growing up. Being a college athlete is challenging but rewarding. After finishing Brown, I miss having the balance of school and tennis but it’s also nice to be able to focus solely on my tennis career now.
Life on the tour – What would you advise the others based on your experience so far?
Based on my personal experience I think that having at least a year of college experience before committing to life on tour is worth it. Looking back, I’m glad that I chose the path that I did. Even if you think it is a setback, the maturity and grounding you gain help tremendously. College also gives you more options for life after tennis which is a difficult transition for many players.
How do you review of your journey as a pro-athlete?
The initial transition was tough – the training is very different at a Brown University versus a UCLA, where they are grooming you to play at a higher level and perhaps transition into a Pro athlete. When I began training again after I graduated I got injured early on and didn’t compete for a year. When I recovered I began making some technical changes which was also a long process.
Last year was the first where I started to travel internationally more and compete more regularly. This year I’ve already played over 15 tournaments so I’ve found my my rhythm now – I still go through ups and downs but I’m as passionate and excited about my future as ever. I love competing and I feel like I’m in a good place right now.
There are so many ITF/WTA events happening week-in and week-out. How do you plan out your schedule? What are some variables that you factor in while making these decisions.
It’s been a bit confusing with the new system on what to select between the $15Ks and the $25Ks. I am not very good at long term scheduling – I look at more a month down the line.
My father has business in Asia and we have a base in Mumbai, so I’ve decided to play the Asia Circuit this summer. Typically I play closer to home – South America, the US and so on – but I’m really enjoying playing in Asia.
The overall focus is to play more of the $25Ks and up this summer.
Where does finding a suitable doubles partner fit into the mix?
I really enjoy playing doubles but it is difficult to get in to tournaments sometimes. When coming here for example, I did not know many of the Asian players. So if someone asks me I usually say yes and hope we get in. However, I do usually try to stick to the same partner when I can and I love playing with former college players because we develop our doubles games a lot in college. I had a lot of fun playing doubles in Tunisia earlier this year with a former US college player; we reached the semis two weeks in a row.
You have been living life out of a suitcase on the tour, almost like a nomad. Any experiences that you can share.
I love traveling, exploring new countries and meeting new people. When your away from home for so long the simplest acts of kindness and hospitality can mean the world. There are many memories that I cherish with people that I’ve met during tournaments.
Most recently l was in Hong Kong for a tournament and met some friends of family (whom I had never met) that lived close by. They were so kind they fed me Indian food almost everyday I was there! When I was in Mexico City last year my host family took me to see the dia de la muerte parade. We don’t always have time to explore cities when we’re competing so it’s really nice to take a moment and experience different cultures with local people.
Lot of players call out how the journey is alone on the tour and not as glamorous as it might come across. How is your camaraderie with the other players? Your take on it.
Tennis is a lonely sport so it does make a huge difference to have friends on tour. I’m pretty friendly with everyone on the circuit. It can be difficult as they are your competition at the end of the day but you become friends with a few who you can really connect with about deeper things but also share a good laugh with.
Tennis is a very expensive sport. How have you managed your funding so far? Any sponsors that have played a crucial role in your career?
Right now my dad is my major sponsor, which I’m very grateful for. I get discounts on equipment (strings, rackets, shoes) but nothing beyond that.
How does a usual daily routine for Nikita look like? Can you walk us through a normal day on your journey as a tennis player.
During the off-season and in between tournaments I train for about 6 hours a day. About 4 hours on the court and the remaining time focused on my fitness.
During tournament season I practice for about 2 hours a day on court and then do some gym work.
Goals for 2019
My biggest goal is to keep improving day by day and also to move up in the rankings – I would like to move into the top 500 within the next 12 months.
I’d also love to play in India this year, perhaps this December. I played in India when I was 14 and haven’t had an opportunity since then.
Most of our readers have not had the opportunity to view your game. How do you summarize your game? The strengths and the weaknesses.
I have a big serve which creates a lot of opportunities for me. My forehand is my biggest weapon, especially my inside-out forehand. I am a good mover so if I need to I can be solid from the back as well.
I am focusing on improving on the mental side of things. Managing pressure situations better and building from each match and each experience.
How do you prepare for your opponent?
If you have information beforehand you build a game plan. If you don’t, as you start playing your opponent you try to recognize their tendencies and patterns. I notice that and then adjust my game style accordingly.
Your sister Shikha has represented India, your cousin is one of the leading actors in India – Are you yourself connected with India in any fashion? Have you been to India yourself?
I lived in India for 7 months when I was 14 years old and I trained there. I do go back often, once every 2-3 years. I was there most recently for Shikha and Neha’s weddings in 2016.
I also did a summer internship in Mumbai in 2014 when I was in college at an environmental consulting start up.
A song that’s playing the most on your playlist these days
Soulmate – Lizzo
Journaling when I am on tour, reading and hanging out with friends
Indian – anyday!
Favorite travel destination
Brazil – The food, culture, music, and nature!
A place that you haven’t been to, but would like to visit
If you had to choose another profession, what would that be?
Something to do with environmental sustainability
Favorite tourney amongst the ones you played
– I got a wild card into the qualifying for the Dubai Duty Free Championships this year and Shikha was able to join me there. It was awesome having her there I knew I couldn’t experience my first WTA event alone.
– It was very special to be able to play a top-100 player in Dubai while having my sister by my side.
My little sister @NikiUberoi got a wildcard to play in the @DDFTennis qualies. If you are in Dubai, please go cheer her on. It's her first WTA Event and she is so excited! (pic from DBX airport) #tennis #SAinSports @SAinSports pic.twitter.com/ziFDMk3Brs— Neha Uberoi Khangoora, LMSW (@neha_uberoi) February 13, 2019
Best friends on tour
My sisters! Also Catherine Leduc from Canada, Akilah James from the US, Rushri Wijesundera from the US.
Racquet that you use
Babolat pure drive
A loss that hurt you the most and why?
It was in Monterrey and I had multiple set points but ended up losing. It was a big match with a lot of points at stake and I wasn’t having a good tennis day.
Fond Memories from your tours
There is a woman (Ann Walsh) who has housed me every year for a week for the past two years in Hilton Head, South Carolina, USA when I play there. She takes us out for meals and drives us to the tournament and around town. Big tennis fan with a big heart. Here is a picture of her, myself and Catherine Leduc.
Most memorable win of your career