Kerber’s former coach Benjamin Ebrahimzadeh shares his experience of working with Karman

By Amol Juneja – 17th July, 2019

This is the fourth 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

Previous articles in the series – 

1) Raw talent > Work In Progress > Finished Product – Journey of Karman Kaur Thandi

2) “Karman playing Tennis is like Sehwag playing Cricket” – Coach Aditya Sachdeva

3) “Karman is moving in the right direction every year” – mentor Bhupathi

Benjamin Ebrahimzadeh is an Iranian-German tennis player turned coach. He has worked with   the likes of Angelique Kerber, Victoria Azarenka and Stefanos Tsitsipas. Benjamin has also been a major part of the coaching staffs of prestigious tennis academies such as Mouratoglou Tennis Academy and Alexander Waske Tennis University.

In this interaction, he discusses his overall experience of working with Karman, his take on her game, and his thoughts on what the future holds for her –

Benjamin with Victoria Azarenka in 2018

Excerpts –

When did you first meet Karman?
My first contact with Karman was through her manager/mentor Mahesh Bhupathi, who contacted me in 2016. Then Karman came south of France and had a trial week with us. I gave my feedback to Mahesh and we decided that she will stay with us for a longer period of time. So yeah, that was my first contact with Karman. 

What were your first impressions of her game?
She has a very aggressive game. Her serve and forehand are very dominant. Her backhand was not that stable at that moment. But I think when you have such great weapons as Karman’s, you should focus on keeping on improving them, which will help you to take your game to the next level.  

In her initial months at the academy, what were the specific aspects of her game that you focused on?
I cannot say that there was a specific aspect that was focused on. She had to get used to the system, to the training structure which included warm-up with the fitness coach. The first tennis session in the morning, and then the second tennis session in the afternoon, and a longer fitness session in the evening. So she had to get used to the process to bring up the intensity to the next level.

Tennis is developing so much and it has changed a lot in the past couple of years. If you compare Rafael Nadal in 2011 to 2019, you will see a totally different player. In Tennis, you constantly have to improve your tactics, techniques, and fitness. So there is not only one part which is worked on.

Is it difficult to go about coaching players with very different styles of play?
I think this is what makes It interesting as a coach, to analyze the game of the player the right way and then maximise the potential and I think a top coach is able to work with any kind of a player. It depends on how good you can analyze and how easy you can develop the vision for yourself. You need a lot of experience and work on players from every level of the game.

Any other Indian players you have worked with other than Karman? What do you think India lacks when it comes to tennis?
I have worked with Prajnesh, Jeevan and Bala. Bala was the first Indian player I met back when I worked in Germany. When I first met Bala, I experienced that the intensity is not up to the mark. All the Indians have very nice hands, a very good feel for the game. But the intensity for me, is not at the highest possible level. This could be because of several reasons, Maybe, because of the weather conditions they trained in as kids. They start very early to portion their energy level so they don’t go all out. So, they are always saving energy. And to reach on the top of the game you cannot play this way.

A lot of Indian tennis experts say that Karman has a Top 50 game, when everything is stitched together. What is your take on this?
I think she has to go step by step, When I see now she is top 200 for the first time, which means Grand Slam Qualies for the first time. Next step would be entering the main draw of the Grand Slams. I am not a big fan to put numbers out and say “Okay that player will definitely reach somewhere.” But she’s at a stage in her professional career where she is getting in the qualies of a Grand Slam and that is where the business is. So for me, the next step would be getting into the main draw of a Grand Slam.

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