“She eats, drinks, sleeps, Tennis. Which is what makes her very special” says Krushmi Chhedha, friend and nutritionist of Indian no 1, Ankita Raina.

How did your journey into tennis begin? When did you first realize that you can pursue it professionally?

As a kid, I was a hyperactive child. I used to go to a club for swimming and there were tennis courts nearby. During Diwali holidays I joined tennis, After some time I played a club tournament and beat quite a few good players. So my parents got called by a coach and I decided to pursue it seriously. I am naturally a lefty and I picked the sport quickly.

Your first ITF junior match was against Sania Mirza in Mumbai in a grade IV. Any memories from this match?

Sania and I played each other at the national circuit a lot, we played some tough 3 setters and there were some easy matches as well which I lost. She was already the No.1 in the age group at that time. She was a tough competitor but I quite liked playing her because she plays aggressive and so do I, and I like playing faster-paced games, At that point, I still had not beaten her, I beat her when I was 16 it was then when I realized my potential and in under 16 and 18 I got into the top five in the country and for me, that was the rising page of my junior career.

You had a couple of ITF doubles final as well – Any memories from that?

Doubles has always been fun for me. I think my Doubles ranking has always been higher than my singles purely because I think Doubles is more fun for me and I think I always had an advantage because I can play well from both sides. I liked being at the net. My coach has always been particular about us being able to volley well and use our serves well. I still remember my first ITF Doubles outside the country in Tunisia. I am not personally someone who would go out of the way to hit people but I remember getting smacked in my first doubles match in ITF juniors. I realised that people are not going to spare you.

How do you view your overall tennis career?

I think I could have had a better tennis career, had my timeline been better. I did not get in because I am not from a professional Sporting family. I think I was a late starter to learn the sport. To learn the sport at seven and a half years, it’s quite late if you want to go professional. However, my journey did pick up the pace from the age of 12 to 18. I had a lack of consistent coaches because every time I was coached hard, the coach had to move from one place to another. I had to change coaches because my coach had to move to another country altogether. I thought that always set me back a couple of months because it was tough to find the same kind of rapport or coordination. So, I think I could have had a more consistent career and maybe a longer one if I had the knowledge of Sports Science and Nutrition.

The time constraint was also there because by the time I started playing ITF juniors, I was already in my 2 years of Juniors. With all the injuries and the career graph I’ve had and the grind of the tennis circuit, If I had to do it all over again, I definitely would. It was thoroughly enjoyable and it was the best time of my life so far.

Your journey into sports science and nutrition. What was the inspiration behind this move and how did you prepare for it

I got a supportive family. I had always been more inclined towards academics. Even when I was playing, I was studying full time. I could manage both. My Idea was to get into the Science side of the sport because when I was younger, we did not have the expertise in sports nutrition and we did not have the expertise in sports specific exercises. I always found that loophole. And when I traveled abroad, I saw the kind of facilities that they had and how far behind we were with nutrition, exercise, and psychology. I wanted to study in that domain so that I could bring it back home, for players going ahead and myself.

I started this journey when I was 18 which meant I would use it for my career and it’s always better when you can study something and apply it on your own. I chose to do sports science as my base because it is a bigger umbrella. It covers exercise, body movements, biomechanics, nutrition and psychology. After this, I got intrigued by nutrition. It’s something so simple and everybody needs it but if you do it right, it’s something that would help you. Comparing it with BioMechanics where you will need a lab set up to be able to test someone. I thought nutrition is something that would cater to a larger audience so I decided to specialise in nutrition.

Did your background in tennis in any way prepare you for this?

Yeah absolutely. Even today, after a decade of consulting in the industry, I feel tennis is what helps me leverage my information in sports science because it’s different when you study it in books and it’s very different when you have done it and have gone through all the glitches in your career. And you understand how it can help you prevent injuries and how it can elevate your performance. I think tennis plays a much bigger role in my life than academic degrees because I’m able to amalgamate both together to advise the players that I work with now.

Can you share a bit of detail on how your journey went in this field before you started working with Pro athletes?

When I started, I believed I could only help a few because my thought process was different for professional athletes. And my idea was to work in London for a few years because that is where it was advanced. I worked at the London Tennis Association where they had such amazing facilities. Top 20 British tennis players used to train there. If we had such a facility in India, I believe we would’ve produced way more top quality players. I was in awe with the kind of facility that they had and sometimes my blood would boil thinking that I wish we would have such facilities here. Then I thought I would work there and then eventually the idea was to bring it back to my country where the supply is so low of such experts and it’s such a niche industry and people tend to not look into it. It was a gamble but I had already decided to take it. I wanted to stay connected to sports my entire life even if it meant I would work with 10 people instead of 20,000. So I came back to India. I only came back to realise that there was such high potential and we have a lot of young athletes who are trying to pursue sports but they stop by the age of 16 or 18 because the academic pressure takes over or people want early results resulting in extremely high dropout rates. So big groups that I ended up working with were young athletes which were great because they eventually became elites. I had the best of both worlds because my access to elite athletes was more in London and my access to young athletes was more in India.

You work with athletes from many sports. How different are the demands of each sport? And within the Racquet sports?

A lot of the population is involved in Racquet sports. You have Tennis, Badminton and Squash. Their training requirements are very different. Also, the environment is very different. For example, Badminton is indoors and is much quicker than the other 2 sports. Same way, Squash is also indoors, It needs a lot of endurance. Whereas Tennis is a mix of both. You have to be on the court for around 3 hours and play with the same intensity and power but you get more breaks. You can sit during the changeovers compared to Badminton where you have to stand on court, there are no chairs but their coach can come and talk to them. In Tennis, the temperature, humidity – everything matters. So you’re not just battling your energy demands but also how your opponent is playing. Different sports have different demands, the training demands.

In Cricket, during the offseason, a lot of times players don’t have that much net practice but they are doing strength and mobility work in the gym or working on other things. So you are not replicating an actual match each time. When you’re playing tennis, very often after getting a good hit, you then want to play some sets which are replicating what you do in a match. So demands are very different in different kinds of sports.

Second is, how you are going to be pursuing your tournament schedule? So there are people who have back to back tournaments, so their training changes accordingly. Some people have longer offseason, they have more time, they can move into their offseason plan.

And third is the kind of sport and the skill it requires because, in a speed-based sport, you’re only trying to beat your timing, you are only trying to better your performance. Whereas, in a racquet sport you’re constantly playing a new opponent each time. So you have to come up with various strategies. So it’s not just physical, it’s also a very mental based sport.

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