As the Indian Fed Cup team led by Sania Mirza and Ankita Raina get ready to face-off in the Asia-Oceania Group I matches, Indian Team Captain Vishal Uppal shared his thoughts on the tie and his overall experience of being involved with the Indian teams so far.
You had been involved with the Indian Junior Teams as the coach. What do you call out as the most satisfying event from your perspective
When I took on the role of the Junior Davis Cup captain in 2009/10, we had made it to the World Group both times in the first couple of years. It was a big learning experience for me as well. What helped me to sail through was my passion for India and to help grow the sport of Tennis in this country. I love my country and I want my country and the people to be successful. That is my biggest passion.
I had the privilege of working with a lot of good juniors through these tourneys. Ramkumar Ramanathan, Arjun Kadhe, Saurabh Singh, Sidhanth Banthia and so on – they have all been on teams with me. It has been a good experience.
You had several of India’s top talents as part of these teams from Adil Kalyanpur, Mahak Jain, Sidhanth Banthia, Megh Patel and so on. Do you still follow their progress and keep in contact?
Yes, absolutely. I am very glued into who is doing what on the junior and the pro tours. If any of them ever come to you for help, you should know about their journey. Somewhere I have a connection with all these players, I have worked with them and they are great kids. I am always open to whichever players want to come over and seek help.
After our Fed Cup tie in Astana last year, you had mentioned that you were excited about the depth in Indian Women’s tennis. How do you view the past year from that perspective?
Yes, there is a lot of good talent in Women’s Tennis in India and a lot of good work can be done. I try to keep in contact with these players even if it is just words of encouragement.
What I really liked about it was the work ethic of some of the girls on the team. They are focused and driven. We just need to stick with them, motivating them and helping them in any which way if possible.
I don’t want to be the guy who stays on the sidelines and criticising things left right and center. I’d rather get into it and help out in any which way that I can. I have a lot of respect for any player who is going out there and giving it his best.
Like I said last year, Ankita Raina plays with a lot of heart – I am very impressed by her. Karman has a lot of talent. This year, Rutuja has come back into the team. Both Riya and Sowjanya have been playing well too.
Of course, we have Sania Mirza back. One of the qualities that I always admired in Sania is that she is a fighter – she will never back down from a fight.
I love that part about her and that is what people should learn, these are the qualities that one should aim to imbibe in themselves.
It’s not just these girls, I see a lot of girls coming up too. I hope they get the right guidance. In general, I feel that Women’s tennis in India is very neglected. It needs to be given attention and the standards can be raised pretty quickly.
How do you view the chances this year?
I am very excited about the prospects this year. We have a realistic chance of qualifying for the next stage. We have two teams qualify. China and Taipei are the two favourites. Korea, Indonesia and Uzbekistan are equally dangerous – we cannot take any of them lightly.
We have to play our hearts out and compete like crazy to upset a couple of teams. With the form that Ankita Raina is in and with Sania / Karman / Rutuja back – we have a lot of depth now and can share the workload.
What is your plan of schedule in preparation for the ties in Dubai?
This year was a bit of an anomaly due to coronavirus. Before leaving for China, we had planned for a little camp in Delhi. Players came for it but the event got shifted. Now everyone is busy competing in tourneys – a lot of our girls played in Jodhpur and Sania competed in Dubai.
I think everyone is feeling good about their game and going to Dubai, it will be more about managing them physically and mentally. We have to compete with every team, so 5 days in a row, we have to play every team. So those challenges are what we have to focus on.
There is no point in burning them out with training camps when they have been playing tennis regularly already. When we are in Dubai, it is all about coming together as a team and supporting and backing each other. That is the area that I will focus on.
[Below is an addendum to the original article based on on-site interview by Mr. Krishnakumar with Vishal Uppal]
How do you find the conditions at DDFT here? Are the conditions more or less similar to what you have anticipated?
We are trying to get used to the courts right now. We should ideally feel better by tomorrow after putting in couple of practice sessions. It tends to get a bit more cooler here in the evening. However, all our players are experienced and they are used to adapting to the changing conditions.
As you have been together with the team over the past day, are all the players match-fit? Players like Karman and Rutuja had been struggling with injuries in the recent past.
It is true that Rutuja had few injury concerns in the past but she is fit now and hitting the ball well. We lost Karman due to an injury and she hasn’t made the trip. We have got a good squad and a good chance to progress.