This is the second in a series of articles going in-depth into the journey of Karman Kaur Thandi, who at age 20, became just the sixth Indian woman to crack the top 200 in the WTA Rankings
Read the first article here –
Raw talent > Work In Progress > Finished Product – Journey of Karman Kaur Thandi
Note – Karman trains at Team Tennis Academy (http://teamtennisindia.com/) in New Delhi, under Coach Aditya Sachdeva, while she is in India.
It’s tough to miss the pride on Mr. Sachdeva’s face, as he talks about one of his brightest students, Karman Thandi. In this interaction, he gives us insights on the journey he’s shared with Karman, one that started by accident, when her former coach, who also happens to be Mr. Sachdeva’s friend, introduced her to him.
He also shares interesting anecdotes from their training sessions, how he’s evolved as a coach, whilst helping Karman evolve as a player, and why he thinks she has all the tools in her game to be a world beater. Read away!
Q. When and how was the first time you crossed paths with Karman?
The first time I ever met Karman was with a friend of mine called Mr. Vinod Kumar, who was her earlier coach. Then I met her at a school function with Mahesh Bhupathi at the Ryan International School. That was my first ever look at her, post which, her parents were requested by Mahesh to get her down to the Siri Fort Sports Complex. That was the first time I actually had a look at her game.
Q. What was your initial impression of her game? When was the first time you realised after watching her game that she had what it takes to become a professional tennis player?
To be very honest, when you see a girl who’s that tall and a good athlete, which is a rare combination, it comes down from her genes. I met her parents, the father is over 6’2 ,the grandfather is even taller than that. So they had the necessary genes that were required, which gives a coach a nice vision saying ‘ok you have somebody in India that tall who can make it if given the right ingredients’. My first impression was yes, I mean she had an average serve. I wouldn’t say it was a very big serve but seeing the height, and most of all, what attracted me was the determination that this girl had. You could not get her off the court till she had finished the task that was given to her.
Q. So she was pretty adamant?
Very adamant! There are numerous examples I can give you. Once, while working on her backhand, I told her go hit a 100 balls off the backhand on the wall. I forgot, but I still saw her hitting against that wall. She said “I’ve hit 98 and I’ve missed and I need to do 100”. Any normal child at that age wouldn’t do that. So I could see the x-factor coming right up with her. This gave me additional motivation as a coach saying ‘ok you know let’s go give this thing a try’.
Q. Her physique is obviously different from most of the Indian girls you would have trained. So did you have to adapt your coaching style/method to cater to her game?
It was a blessing to find a girl that tall already. There’s nothing as far as the adaptation is concerned. The only adaptation we had to make was to get her strong physically as she has long limbs. And when you have long limbs, your center of gravity gets higher. So to get that down, we needed to make sure she’s always physically strong so that she could stay low. As a result, we worked a lot on her agility skills because tall people move a little slower when it comes to the inside part of the court. This is something we’ve worked really hard on, in the initial part of her career.
Q. Was it something which you had to work on or did she have some natural aspect to it as well?
Like I said she’s a natural athlete also , she’s a very good athlete. It was just enhancing those skills making sure the right ingredients are given at the right time and as you know speed is completely related to strength and she had long limbs, so we started that development a little earlier.
Q. How have you seen Karman evolving over the years?
From a 13 year old girl now she’s a woman, that should say it all. We’ve gone through a journey with more ups than downs so far because she’s so determined. Also, she’s one of the very few athletes who has trained with me over so many years now and has been able to bring out the best in me while coaching her.
Q. So as a coach you’ve evolved as well?
When a child asks you questions, you need to come up with the answers. In fact, she’s also taught me a lot while teaching her. The best aspect was I needed to find answers for her. And then she’s a very quick learner. So when you tell her things, show her things, she picks them up instantaneously and kind of puts them on the court.
Q. Karman’s strengths are her serve and forehead obviously . But her backhand has also improved in the last few years. What do you think are the aspects in her game that she needs to improve in order to crack the top 100 and beyond?
Physicality! She has long limbs, and is thin. She needs to put on more muscle to become stronger. Because the stronger you are, the more stable you become. It’s not about the strokes as much now, because she has every ingredient that’s required – right from a huge serve, big forehand and a very solid backhand now. Volleys are good as well, she’s moving inward from that aspect. From the tactical standpoint, the game is coming together. But to play against the top 100 women over there who are maybe 24, 25, 26 year olds already, the density of muscle needs to be much stronger.
Q. She’s an ectomorph. How does she make sure she doesn’t lose muscle mass since it’s a cardiovascular sport?
It is. But then you need to know that it has to be balanced with a good diet and what we do as a load principle. How much load to give, because now she’s not learning the basics anymore. Now it’s more about taking care of the body and making sure she’s not injured at all right now which is what we’re trying. Let’s hope she stays injury free.
Q.You’ve worked with her in her early years. Was there a conscious effort to pay extra attention on developing her serve as a weapon, given her height?
I’ve worked with her in her early years as well as I’m still working on her serve. There’s always scope for improvement. So the main thing is that when I met the parents especially the dad and the grand-dad, you know that the genes are taking you there because at that time she was already taller than the mother. So you knew that she was gonna go that high. If you have somebody with a big heart like she does, she doesn’t care. She’s not scared to miss the ball and that’s a huge advantage you get. It’s like a Sehwag playing cricket, being fearless. That fearlessness added with a big serve, is only gonna get you to the next level. That’s where we started to work with the serve, keeping in mind that the other ingredients are there and given the height, if you don’t have a serve then there’s nobody to blame but the coach. I probably didn’t want to get blamed over there(laughs).
Q. Movement is obviously another area where a lanky Tennis player tends to struggle. How did you manage that aspect of her game?
I think I mentioned it before. From a young age we started to really work on her physicality and more so, the agility, the small steps, the adjustment steps because you tend to take big steps because your natural first step is really big. So we needed to make sure the agility had to be taken care of from a young age, and that’s what we did. We got an entire plan as far as what we did and we followed that through.
Q. From a young age , she has been under the spotlight and people have had huge expectations from her. How do you think she has coped up so far and do you think it burdens the athlete, especially when they are very young?
You can take it as a burden or you can enjoy it. I think she enjoys it because that’s the way we’ve groomed her from a young age. It’s like you’re playing a huge match, and you can either buckle down under pressure or enjoy the match because that’s your time to show the world that you have that talent. That’s how we’ve groomed her. I keep telling her that it’s an opportunity you have to showcase your talent to the world. So go enjoy it and that’s what she does.