“Niki Poonacha is a really really hard working person. Irrespective of what day it is, he comes in and puts in his 100%.” – Rohan Bopanna shares his thoughts on the brilliant run by Niki Poonacha

Rohan Bopanna shares his thoughts on the brilliant run by Niki Poonacha (Trainee, Rohan Bopanna Tennis Academy) at the ATP Bengaluru Challenger defeating Lukas Rosol and then running top-100 player Yuichi Sugita very close.

Surya Raj caught up with Rohan Bopanna on the sidelines of the ATP 500 ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam.

Niki had a great run in Bangalore beating Rosol and a close match against Sugita. Thoughts on his run?

I am really thankful to the Bengaluru Open to give Niki an opportunity via wildcard into such a big tournament. With Niki being the National Champion, it was kind of the tourney organizer team to believe that Niki deserves that opportunity. 

It was a tough match in the first round for Niki against Adil – he hung in there and mustered enough energy to pull through that match. 

Against Rosol, Niki showed that he had the potential and the game to do well at this level. In a way, it was good to see for all of us as Niki had been training at the academy for sometime. For his own self-belief that if he plays his good level, it showed that he can play against the big boys on the ATP Tour. It was credit to Niki that he came through that tough match in 3 sets. 

Niki played extremely well against Sugita as well, leading 5-4 in the first set and serving. Again it was a good match. 

Niki has learnt a lot from the last time when he had received a wild card into the Bengaluru Challenger. He realizes that he needs to do a lot more on his fitness. I was able to watch the match and we are glad that he was able to make it count. 

It was not only Niki but there was Rishi Reddy too who got in as a lucky loser. He lost to Sidharth Rawat – the occasion had got to him. For him, to be playing in such a big event – it was his very first time and so he could not handle that pressure. It was a good learning experience for him too. 

Niki had been with RBTA and attributes a lot of his success to you, Sujit, Bala sir and the academy. When and how did Niki’s association with RBTA start?

It started about 3 to 3.5 yrs ago. I met him in Chennai. At that time, he was not sure what he wanted to do with his tennis. Financially, he couldn’t really support himself. He was planning to not play so much tennis, to play for a very few weeks. I was starting my academy at the same time and I told him, why don’t you come over to my academy in Bengaluru and lets try and see what we can do. 

He had the kind of game which could have easily got him better but he had been stuck doing this for 7-8 years. Where as over the past 3 years, we really worked on his consistency and fitness which has made him a better tennis player. I think the credit goes to the entire team. 

At the Sports School, we not only have the tennis coaches but the physiotherapists, the fitness trainer, the nutritionist who takes care of the food and so on. This is something that I wanted to provide the players and tell them that this is what we are providing and it is now up to you, to utilize these facilities to get better. 

Niki has been practising with players of good caliber at the academy. Also just before the Pune ATP, he was in Chennai practicing with most of the Indian boys from the tour with Coach Balachandran sir. He is learning a lot and can only improve further from here. 

Your thoughts on Niki’s game and where do you see him heading in the next couple of years?

We have been trying to get a sponsor to help with his travel. Give him the opportunity to at least for a year and see how he goes. 

He is a really really hard working person and that makes a big difference. Irrespective of what day it is, he comes in and puts in his 100%. This is what made the big difference for me. Irrespective of whether he wins or loses, what matters is that he is committed to whatever he is doing. If you tell him to go to a Physio to get this done, you know he is going there and is not going to slack. So we’ve been really trying to get a good sponsor to help with his travel. 

If he can go out there and play in the futures and the challengers, there is a good opportunity for him out there. 

Niki has been showing the spark for sometime now. What do you think is holding him back to transition to having continued success in the futures

Management of his injuries – this is probably what is holding him back. He needs to travel there with a full-time physio. His body has now started putting in the load and the work. It was not strong enough to handle that load. Occasionally when he plays 3-4 weeks, he gets injured. 

This is where I’ve been telling him to have a Physio with him to avoid this and keep growing as a player. This is what most of the players do on the tour constantly. 

When these boys are traveling on the tour, their fitness does not keep up to the mark. When you are traveling by yourself, it’s a lonely tour, you could be lazy to go to the Gym by yourself. When you have someone with you to push you constantly, that is how you can get better. He has to invest in his physio. This is something which can be developed in his game to get better results. 

On the philosophy at RBTA. 

It is important to know that there needs to be a lot of discipline and commitment which is required before you become a good player. It is a 365 days of work which is required. It is not just about 1-2 weeks. Lots of the players who are there push each other. 

I keep telling them that when they are traveling for tournaments together, to keep pushing each other, support each other during matches and build that supportive atmosphere. Obviously, you want to compete but it is important to enjoy the tour as well. 

Coming to Rotterdam, thoughts on your next round opponents in the semis here?

Kontinen is a defending champion here in Rotterdam and so likes the courts here. Struff plays a lot more singles but has been playing doubles more often in the last couple of years and has been having very good success. He is somebody who serves and hits the ball very big. 

So we have to continue playing aggressive tennis, focus on our games to stay with them and try and get that win.

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