“There were so many players more talented than her, but her hard work stood out” – Coach Hemant Bendrey on Ankita Raina

Mr. Hemant Bendrey is one of the prominent coaches in the country right now, having coached players like Ankita Raina, Rutuja Bhosale, Arjun Kadhe, Natasha Palha, among many others.

He shares his experience of working with Ankita, Rutuja, and the others, shares details about his academy(HBTA), interesting anecdote on how he got into coaching, and much more

These are series of articles going in-depth into the journey of Ankita Raina, the Indian no.1 in singles and doubles on the WTA Rankings. Find out more from the previous articles here

1. “She is waiting for her opportunity. And it will come – sooner or later” – Lalita Raina ji, sharing a mother’s perspective, on the tennis journey of Ankita Raina
2. “Face challenges. Do not get bogged down. Do not look back. March ahead despite all the difficulties.” advises Ravinder Krishan Raina ji, father of the Indian no. 1 at WTA Rankings, Ankita Raina.
3. Ankur Raina, brother of Indian No.1 Ankita Raina, provides a sibling’s perspective on the inspiring journey of Ankita

The articles will also be available for read on http://www.scroll.in – a popular Indian news website.

Ankita with Mr. Bendrey

Q) How did your journey as a coach begin? Can you throw us a bit of light on how you came to build your academy?

I started coaching when I was 21. When I was practising, there was this boy (U-12) who used to come and watch me play. Then I happened to start playing with him and he started doing well in tournaments. So it was just a coincidence wherein I happened to be on court with this kid. Coaching was never my idea and was completely unplanned. But then when I was on court, I knew this is what I like and want to pursue.

Q) How is the tennis program structured at the HBTA? What are the specific areas that you focus on, as a coach?

There are coaches who prioritise either tactical work, mental work, physical work or technical work. Some coaches will have strength out of these four areas. The areas that I focus more on as a coach are the biomechanical and physical aspects of tennis.

Q) The game keeps evolving with technology and so do the training methods.How do you manage to keep yourself in tune with the rest of the world?

I travel everywhere for workshops. Mostly, it’s about interacting with other coaches and learning, especially from the ones who are keen to share their knowledge. On top of that, it’s about observation as well, to see what they are doing and why they are doing. That’s how you learn and grow as a coach.

Q) Note on your team at HBTA. Who are the main coaches & support staff that work with you and provide that pillar of support

The head coach is Utsav Mukherjee. Then I have ten coaches who act as the support staff. The head physical trainer is Gaurav Nijhon

Q) Running an academy involves a lot of costs. How do you manage the balance between the commercial aspects (taking in a lot of kids) vs maintaining the quality bar of your students intake?

It’s tough. I have adopted the methodology of not having more than two players per court. It has reduced my profits but this is more result-oriented. It extends my work hours a little bit, as I start at 7.30 AM, and finish by 4 PM.We have just four courts, so two players per court means only eight at once. So the hours increase. But this is what we firmly believe is needed for performance. 

Q) You have been coaching Ankita from a young age. How much has she evolved as a player?

She has always played every point with a do or die attitude. When she was 12-13, I knew that she was going to be a national champion. To be honest, I did not predict that she would be an international champion as well.But the discipline was always there, which was the first thing I noticed. There are so many players out there who were more talented than her but her hard-work stood out. Talent, strokes, mentality – all these can make you a successful junior but to be able to make it at the men’s/ women’s level, you need to be able to fight, day in, day out. In fact, even Rutuja (Bhosale) along with Ankita, has the same quality.

Q) Ankita’s serve is an area of concern but makes up for it with her movement and her will power. She is probably one the most mentally gritty players out there. What do you think she needs more to break to the Top 100 and beyond?

We always knew that her serve speed would never be higher than 155-160 kmph. But what we are trying to do is increase accuracy and provide more direction to her serve so that the point starts with some advantage to her, in terms of court positioning. In women’s, the game is more about return of serve, unlike in the men’s, where it is serve dominated. Even if you don’t have a great serve, you can manage in women’s. When she beat Samantha Stosur, strength in her returns helped her. Apart for a handful of players in the women’s circuit, all of them don’t have big serve. If you have it, it’s an advantage but if not, you can still make it.

Ankita at Wimbledon

Q) Time and again Ankita has reiterated that having her coach with her made all the difference in the world and she has been a different player from WTA Mumbai 2017. You traveled with her to Wimbledon & French Open qualifying this year. Do you have any plans to travel with her & other players at least for certain events?

I try whenever possible. It’s all about time management as I have my academy to look after. But when I do go, I make it a point to go before the week of a Grand Slam tournament and it has helped.

Mr. Bendrey with Ankita at the Australian Open

Q) Arjun Kadhe in our interview with us mentioned that you have been like a second father to him. Like Ankita, you have been with him for a long time. Can you break down his game for us?

Arjun’s game is based on his serve and his first forehand. His game is built around it. He has great doubles skills, return of serve is his strength and area of concern is movement.

Q) He was with you during his junior days and then he left to US for college. What difference do you find in his game after his stint there?

I think he came back with more confidence. But one general observation that I have is whoever has been been to American universities, have not come back as fitter tennis players. Maybe they have become bigger and stronger but lacked in agility and speed. I have seen 20-25 players from my academy and this is my observation.

Q) Talking about college, another ward of your Rutuja has taken the college route as well. Your take on the US college tennis?

She has the capacity to hit the balls as hard as Ankita. Ankita and Rutuja can hit hard from both sides.Rutuja also is disciplined and hard working. One of the responsibilities of a coach is to motivate his players. But these two girls motivate me. If the session starts at 8am, they will be there at 7:15am. I don’t see the same motivation in juniors nowadays. 

US college tennis is a great option for Indian players, not only do you get to play good tennis but your academics is also taken care of. After your degree you can decide to come back in professional tennis or have a career in academics. We have many who have done well in professional tennis after coming back from the US. 

Mr. Bendrey with Rutuja and Ankita after the historic Fed Cup campaign in Feb, 2020

Q) Natasha Palha – In one of our interviews, she attributed a lot of her career to her time at your academy. How has your involvement been with her and the overall journey so far.

Natasha also was very hard-working and disciplined athlete. I always wanted her to bring a character in her game. Her movement was her strength but was not able to generate power in her strokes, because of her determination and grit she won Women’s National Championship.

Q) Another talented kid on the fray – Mallika Marathe. Can you tell us something about her game?Where do you see her in 5-6 years?

Everybody knows that she is talented and has good potential but I would like to see how hard she works when things are not going in her favour.  When you are winning, it’s easy to keep the motivation levels up and work hard. But more important is putting the same kind of effort when you are losing.

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Mallika Marathe, who was ranked India No. 1 in the AITA U14 Rankings in 2017

Q) Your association with Coach Narendranath sir. How is his relationship with him and how often will he be involved with Ankita Raina?

I started my coaching career working with him and he has been a great influence in my coaching career. Whenever possible he travels with Ankita and that also has helped her a lot. 

Q) You used to be a part of the ITF Coaches commission. There are continuous advancements in coaching methodologies across the globe. What are the efforts in place to ensure our Coaches are up-to-date here and any specific collaborations that we have with global bodies in this area?

AITA/ITF try to educate coaches with updated methodologies, it depends on the coaches to apply on court all that they have learnt. If you want to improve as a coach, you not only have to attend workshops, seminars and courses but also have to travel for tournaments. The ITF/AITA have coaches education program in place since 1999 and has given direction to Indian coaches. Nowadays, I see coaches not willing to travel for workshops and tournaments. My advice for coaches would be to invest in themselves for their improvement.

Q) You are one of the few people who has the experience as a player, coach and also key stakeholder as an administrator in India. You have also seen the era when India was in the top echelons of world tennis in the Mens :

a) Where do you think the slide down has happened for Indian Tennis vis-a-vis our Asian/European and world counterparts
b) If you had the authority to bring about sweeping changes in the way Indian Tennis is managed vis-a-vis the world – what would be some of the changes you will bring

Every now and then, we have players those who have come up purely on their own merit. All tennis issues in our country are finance related. We need a structure of international tournaments and I’m sure we will have many more Top 100 players. Why do you think European players have so many top 100 players! It’s just  because they have many tournaments every week in Europe itself. In India if we have 15-20 challenger level tournaments for mens and women’s, the whole scene of Indian tennis will change.

Without international tournament structure at home, the pressure of expenses becomes huge on players and that has an effect on their performance as well. So we need sponsorships to conduct international tournaments in India.

Q) What advice do you have for parents (of junior players)?

First of all, parents should make sure that the kids are enjoying the challenges they face not only in training but in tournaments as well. Most of the times I see that parents go overboard and put pressure on their kids to perform.Around 12th standard, they can decide on how to approach the future. There is always an option to send the kid to US for College Tennis, where his/her academics will be taken care of as well. So the options are plenty. There are tennis based scholarships which can ease academics costs. One huge mistake many parents make is, they talk about finances in front of the kid. This can create a negative impact so parents should refrain from doing that

Q) In this age of social media, there are a lot of armchair critics How do you have your players deal with praise or criticism that comes with being a top player?

I think it’s not all negative. But it’s important to have the ability to balance so that it doesn’t become a distraction. Players are professional and in my opinion they have to learn to handle praise and criticism in the same way.

Q) MSLTA has been one of the most active associations in India. Can you brief us about your association with the MSLTA & Sundar Iyer?

I have seen MSLTA grow over the years. The best part about them is that they always think from the players’ perspective, you will see them conducting tournaments of different levels. MSLTA has strong administrators like Mr.Bharat Oza, Mr.Sharad Kanammwar and Mr. Sunder Iyer, and their team of councillors, who have a vision of making Maharashtra an international tennis destination and want to see players from Maharashtra doing well internationally. MSLTA has a  Vision Program for promising players. Arjun, Rutuja, Aryan Goveas, Prarthana Thombare have been products of this program. Arjun has been supported for the last 12 years.The first program started in 2005 and then every five years was extended.

Currently, there is a Vision 2020 in process. MSLTA is one of the most proactive associations in the country. They are the only organization to conduct regional workshops for the coaches, to improve the quality of coaching . One hardly sees this happening anywhere else. They have invited coaches from Australia, Spain, Canada and other places for such educational workshops. MSLTA believes good coaches will make good players and so is investing a lot in coaches education.


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