“The first one to notice me was Mahesh Bhupathi sir”- Jennifer Luikham, one of India’s promising Next-Gen player

An up and coming Next Gen player of India, Jennifer Luikham has been under the radar for sometime now. She was the no.1 player in India in U-16 and has been playing the ITF circuit for a few years. With her aggressive brand of tennis, this 21 year-old from Haryana is definitely a name to watch out her.

In a conversation with Sanketa Anand, she shares various tidbits about her. Excerpts:-

(About the Author: Sanketa Anand – Director of a Tech firm in Singapore with a keen interest in Indian Tennis. Sanketa has been ITD’s face for Singapore / Maharashtra since inception)

Q) How did your journey in tennis start?

Jennifer: It all started as a fitness indulgence. My entire family, even our cook all started playing tennis and just enjoying on court. That’s how I started. I kind of learnt tennis really quickly and people started noticing me. The first one to notice me was Mahesh Bhupathi sir. Apparently, he told my dad I should never stop playing tennis, never ask her to stop playing tennis. That’s when things started getting a little serious and when I started winning tournaments and juniors, my parents knew that I got a career here. That’s when I decided that I want to focus on this path. I have now been playing tennis for the last 14 years.

Q) How about your studies?

It was never a first priority. My parents never really pushed on my studies. They never gave me that pressure. They were always very supportive. They found me a school where I didn’t have to attend school on a daily basis, just once a week. We went to a school where we somehow managed to convince them that I will only come for exams. So that’s how the school thing work.

Q) You have been on tour, playing in various countries since your teenage and have been quite successful against higher-ranked opponents. What are the strengths of your game and the key areas that you work on? What gives you the motivation

Jennifer: What I mostly work upon is myself, because competing with others doesn’t work for me. So, I want to do better everyday. I would say my strengths are my mental positivity, my serve and my big groundstrokes that I rely on.

Q) What do you think is needed for you to step up and be consistently moving ahead to try $25k events and WTA challenger events?

Jennifer: I just got to keep continue playing these big matches and play a lot more tournaments for a better experience, play against these players, especially Europeans make me stronger every day and gets me motivated. Those matches, I need to play a lot. One reason I play doubles is to work a lot on my volleys.

Jennifer in action during ITF $25k Pune (Photo: Sanketa Anand)

Q) How do you manage to bear the finances while on tour? Do you have your coaching team/physio or somebody helping you?

Jennifer: Financially, my parents are supporting me so far. I don’t have any sponsors yet, but we have been doing fine. I’m really grateful. I do have a supporting team, small but sufficient so far. I do have good physios like Srikanth Iyengar and Aditya Sachdeva sir-I have been under him for the past 11 years now. I have a pretty good team.

Q) You scored the big win over Indian No. 2 Riya Bhatia last week in Delhi. Tell us your thoughts on that match.

Jennifer: It was a really good match. I played her last year and lost in the 2nd set tie-break. It was a hard loss. So, this time I went in with the thought that I want to give out my best and try out all the things I couldn’t last time. So, I was prepared for all the things that I wanted to do and I played whatever I could. I have been practicing for the last 1 year at home mentally, if not on the tennis court. So those things really came into play. So, my game and mental training came in together.

I’m not relaxed completely but I’m not nervous either. I do accept that I’m nervous and that I’m going to be playing a good player. So, the acceptance needs to be there, the awareness of being against a good player is what I have learned to achieve. I know that what I’m going to do on court is under my control and not under her. So, that’s what I’m trying to do, not try to overpower her or try to control her. So, what I’m doing is what I can do. I’m not trying to focus on anything else.

Q) Plans for 2021? What are the tournaments that you are looking to play for the rest of the year?

Jennifer: I’m looking forward to training in Italy. That is if I can financially support myself and the Italian embassy can provide me with a visa. If I can get a chance over there, then I can proceed further.

Q) You and your friend Nidhitra Rajmohan have been very inspiring for the larger Indian Tennis community with your entrepreneurial spirit. Can you update us on some of the initiatives that you’ve started and your plans for them? 

Jennifer: We have under lockdown for a year. I and Nidhitra spent one tournament together- somehow, my mom couldn’t make it. We were just generally talking about how we wanted to do things and being independent. We were discussing how we should do this in the community, the designs that we get to buy in European countries that we don’t often get here. So, we wanted to be productive and affordable for all the Indians and all the players. We wanted to help them as well as we wanted to be independent for ourselves. We did a lot of NGO stuff as well during the lockdown, to help the kids with whatever we learnt in the past few years – tennis coaching or fitness training or even yoga if someone wanted it. She [Nidhitra Rajmohan] also started some safety products. So, I’m just a part of it to support her with Instagram posts and sharing her products with other people and just marketing.

HobbiesPainting, sketching and dancing
Favourite food itemChicken and paneer & Roti
Favourite TournamentThe best place I have performed is in Turkey. But the best place I would rather choose, regardless of results would be in Romania because it has always been my childhood dream to make it to Romania. I didn’t really perform particularly well, but I enjoyed myself over there.
Favourite movieI don’t particularly like any movie. My favourite Bollywood star would be Ranveer Singh. He is like my vibe.
Favourite travel destinationSt. Petersberg
A place that you haven’t been to, but would like to visitI haven’t really explored India a lot. I would like to go to Jammu and Kashmir.
A loss that hurt you the most There are so many matches. There was one tournament in Turkey that I played the finals at. I don’t think at that time and age, I was physically good enough to reach the finals and win that tournament. So, that’s how I missed the chance to lift that trophy up. I would say, that was one of my hardest loss as I felt I could have done better.
If not Tennis, alternate career trackI have always done well in tennis. Since childhood, I have always been very clear about what I wanted to do in my life.

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