Coming from a middle class family, Vijay Sundar Prashant has been an inspiration for many. Dearth of resources during his early struggle days, but with no dearth talent, this man proved what one can achieve with a firm resilience and determination. Famously known as the terminator by his friends, this hard-working athlete has represented and won for India, reching a career high of #335 and #193 in singles and doubles.

Currently based in London, Vijay spent around an hour with Cynergyservices over google meet conference. Vijay talks at length about life beyond Professional Tennis, about his inspiring experiences from his club tennis stint in Germany & more importantly how he built his social captial throughout this riveting journey. 

So, how is the current lockdown treating you?

We are perhaps in the last stages of the lockdown. We are actually in a long haul in the fight against covid19. Prime Minister addressed the nation tonight, and there will be lifting of some lockdown measures from end may. Situation is very much the same around the globe, so yeah, the social distancing seems to be the only way to contain the virus spread. Its spring right now, and its warm and nice. Sun is out & not too cold so it’s just nice.

How do you manage yourself now i.e. trainings, fitness etc.?

In England govt. here has allowed to step out once a day for a walk or so. I have a huge park next to my house. I go there every day and keep up with my activities. Doing tennis related drills, long runs, and multiple other physical activities we do (along with wife). It’s fun out there and is quite relaxing too. My wife wasn’t a tennis lover earlier, but now she has started liking it. She doesn’t have a choice either now. haha.!!

It’s been a long journey for you in tennis. Playing since you were 4 years old & now you are 33 and still going strong. How did you initially think of tennis as a profession? Who gets the credit for it?

Reason of started playing tennis goes long back to my school days. Weekly in school, we used to play one sport for an hour. My parents picked tennis out of the three sport – cricket, basketball and tennis. Cricket in those days was a tough sport and not easy to get in & with basketball, my parents thought I could end up with more injuries. With limited knowledge we had at that point in time, we all picked tennis as the one sport for me. From the age of 4-7, I used to play tennis regularly. At around 7-8, they started noticing the improvement in my game and I joined the tennis academy in the school, practicing every day. Credit for this definitely goes to my parents for supporting my initial journey and hold my hands firmly in the initial days.

Vijay in action during his stint in school tennis

How things moved on after that?

At the age of 8, I played my first tennis tournament. At the age of 10, I played an U10 boys tournament and I won that tournament from the qualifying round. That’s when my parents felt that I have more potential than the others. Few more tournaments I played till the age of 12 in the state of Tamilnadu & was winning them regularly too. I was the state #1 tennis player then.

During U14, Vijay was among the top ranked players in India.

Started playing all U14 India tournaments after that & again I was lucky to win most the tournaments I played. Was in the top 3 rankings at that point in time, in India. That’s where perhaps, we thought to take the sport seriously and make it a profession.

And a dip after that. What lead to that dip?

Yes, there was dip in my performance those 2-3 years. I played more futures and less of ITF tournaments. With our limited knowledge back then, we didn’t know what tournaments to play or not to play. At the age of 14, TATE (Tamil Nadu Academy for Tennis Excellence) picked me. I was one of the top 7 players they selected for training in the sport. TATE’s aim was to sponsor the bright kids, take them around the country and abroad, get them to play national & international tournaments and bring laurels to the country. It was a great relief for my parents, as all my travels, planning of tournaments etc. were taken care by TATE.

Things were different from me then, as I was getting used to doing things alone. Perhaps, that was one of the reasons why my form started to dip. The vision was getting little blurry & I couldn’t really decide the next move. Lateral thinking was perhaps needed then & I couldn’t do that. Due to limited knowledge, I thought, from U16, I should move to U18 and from there move to the Men’s. Those 2-3 didn’t go well for me either. Association stopped the sponsorship, and I was caught in a limbo. Couldn’t decide if I should continue with the sport or move to studies.  Due to financial issues too, couldn’t afford to travel internationally on my own & play more matches.

For the love of the sport, I was willing to go through the struggle. As a player, I always want to fight through the situations & take on the challenges. Even though I didn’t have the vision and clarity, I still decided to continue playing. I was only ensuring that I am keeping things right, when it comes to playing tennis in the court. Being very honest to myself was the key.

Your association with German club tennis.

I have a few friends of my mine who helped me in my training, fitness & later they became my coach. From the age of 22-25, my goal was to play mostly to play AITA men’s tournaments in India and win them to make money. With that money, I used to play more futures tournaments and play ATP tournaments to up my rankings. So, this was the only way, I used to manage my finances & plan my tournaments. I started doing well in the men’s circuit, winning around 18-20 tournaments. It gave me some financial freedom to play futures tournaments. Back then some folks had mentioned to me about German clubs. It a nice opportunity not just to make some money, but also play with some great players in Europe.

Just playing a challenger or a future in Germany, it costs a lot. I had reached to my friends who played tennis with me, my competitors against whom I played a lot.  Since 2009, I was searching for some German clubs and in 2012 I finally got a break. Vijay Kannan reached out to me for this. He was almost done with his career and checked with me, if I am keen to play with his club. That’s how the journey started.

Vijay, in action during his stint in German Club Tennis

I got to compete in the European circuit, playing with some great players, and started playing on red clay. They retained me for the next year too, and since then I play every year for them. It is supposed to happen in July, so let’s see how things goes. I have changed 4 clubs after that. I started with 6th division and now playing in the 4th division there.

Starting 2014, you witnessed an upward swing.

Few years before 2015, I always played top opponents ranked between #150-200. So even losing the game, taught me a lot. Prior to that Mahendra Varma, my friend cum coach helped me prepare for the sport. We trained 45-60 days dedicatedly for long hours before the Chennai open. That’s when my game shot up to another level. That’s where a dedicated coach helps. I got the push thereafter and won the game against Yuki & Ilya & many other futures & challengers’ events. Then in Pune, I had a win against Arthur De Greef (#113) and Somdev Devvarman. Winning against Somdev was great as he was an iconic player in Indian Tennis fraternity. Must have been a special event for you.

Men’s Doubles Champion at the Baharin ITF World Tennis Tour 2019 – Vijay, with his wife Sonam 

Never thought of picking college tennis..

Not really, due to limited finances & struggles we had. Somdev picked the college tennis in our times. We didn’t have much awareness & it wasn’t very popular then. Later once Somdev was back, we discussed in detail about the offerings, scholarships and the benefits. His game improved a lot after playing college tennis & it was very visible.

Now a days, College tennis is quite popular among athletes. Younger batches are much more aware of it and keep trying for it.

How do you see things getting back to normal?

Sincerely I hope it goes back to normal. From the looks of it, it looks very uncertain. ITF has announced multiple measure like there won’t be any doubles anytime soon, and for singles there will be social distancing mechanisms between players etc. Tennis has an impact on global economic activity as there are a lot of international players, travels involved, advertisers putting in their money. It will be difficult to sell the products and make it profitable for everyone involved.

Some examples of some of the suggested measures by ITF include: 

  • Players remain at least 2m from one another and have no physical contact (such as a post-match handshake) 
  • Players go around opposite sides of the net at changeovers 
  • Players use separate sets of balls (and mark them clearly prior to play) 
  • Players should not share equipment (rackets, towels, water bottles, etc)
  • Only singles matches should be played 
  • Matches should be played without spectators

As for players, they should eventually start playing with some restrictions. We just to wait and see, but we should definitely start trainings. We should compete in practice, at small academies & slowly get ready when times are good. Using social media, technology to telecast the matches will slowly increase awareness & generate people drive towards the game.

Lost some close matches last year like Pune Challenger, Maia Challenger and M25 ITF World Tennis Tour in Thailand.

These matches were close ones. It could have gone either ways, and a few points would have made me victorious. I rather look at the brighter side of things about getting an opportunity to play with quality opponents. Lot of people came out and watched the Pune challenger. Their organization has been good. Great platform for Indian players to come together and perform infront of the home crowd.

Vijay Sundar Prashanth & Ramkumar lift doubles title at KPIT -MSLTA ATP Challenger 2018 in Pune

Choosing right partners..

Yeah, prior to the tournaments, we ask around who is available. We mostly know each other from past, and plan much ahead of time.

If not tennis, then what?

Haha.. I keep asking that question myself. I probably would have turned into an Engineer. My parents wanted me to become a doctor, but I was more inclined towards engineering. I don’t think I could have picked any other sports other than tennis.

Vijay with his parents, who have always supported him in this Journey

Some learning moments from your tennis journey?

Sport in general taught me how to deal with losses in life. Without tennis, I don’t know how I would have dealt with my losses. In tennis, we lose matches almost every week, and in no time, we are up against other opponent in the next match. We should never give up & keep trying again.

I love travelling to places. Tennis gave me that opportunity, travelling multiple countries, meeting people from different cultures. I think everyone must experience it sometime in their life.

Any travel experience you want to share?

I use Airbnb while travelling. I get to stay with different people while travelling in Europe. Close of Birmingham, I stayed with college students once and almost every night they used to have fun. Post games, I used to get together & mingle with them. Getting to know them was a great experience. Trying out such different experience is something I always cherish.

Tell us about the sponsors.

Generally, Clubs take care of all my stay related things. During the seasons, they take care all the necessary expenses. However, If I am playing challengers, futures etc. within Europe, then I plan my own travel and manage expenses myself.

Octo sports sponsors me for clothing & Babolat Aeroport when it comes to Racquets/Kits. Thank them for their support throughout.

Any Netflix Series,movies you have watched recently.

Watched Dark, about the time travel.

Watch Darbar four times as I am a big fan of Thailaiva, the one and only Rajnikanth. Always look forward to his movies, such a delight he is. 

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