Former national champion Niki Poonacha was elected to the ITF Player Panel last year to represent the interests of the players. A year on, Niki talks about his experience of working with the ITF, the changes that have been brought about, and things that are in the pipeline

(About The Author – Vishakha is a massive Federer (& Tennis) fan based in Indore. She has written for leading tennis publications such as Last Word On Sports & SportzCosmos in the past. She is an exceptional artist as well, and likes to create doodles during her free time while listening to old-timey music)

Q) You’ve resumed training and started playing ITF events for a few months. How has that return journey from the break been?

It’s not been as expected as I have not won a match yet. I played a few Futures in Egypt and lost first rounds in all three weeks, and even in Lucknow and Indore I was not able to win a match. It’s hard. The training schedule changed, and with training, the game changed

Q) Many of the Indian players at the Futures have been struggling in terms of results post the break. Do you think the Asian players have been harder hit by the pandemic?

For Indians, because covid hit India later, India was very strict with covid lockdowns. I could not play for 6 months. For European players, it was just a month or a two month break. We started late. We are trying to get better and train better. Not sure about the other Asian countries, but India definitely

I was trying to keep myself fit by doing general fitness exercises at home. I usually train 6 hours per day, but I could only do 1 or 2 hours per day. After covid, when I started playing, I got injured right away, which was the major setback for me.

Q) How do you view your form currently and your chances in the rest of the season?

I am trying to play like I have in the past. But I have accepted that it is not going to come fast or easily. I am trying to work with my coaches to manage my injuries and play to my best abilities. I think I am already playing better now than I was playing in Egypt. Now I am mentally prepared to fight. The match against Sidharth(Rawat) in Indore was tight, but I just couldn’t pull through. But I am getting there!

Q) You’ve been part of the ITF Player Panel for almost a year now. How has been the experience in terms of interaction and support from the fellow committee members and the ITF?

Everybody is passionate about helping the players. It doesn’t matter how small or big the help is. We are trying to get information communicated to the players as much as possible. ITF is answering every question we ask. They are responsible. It’s going really well!

Niki trains at the Rohan Bopanna Tennis Academy in Bengaluru

Q) How do you review your performance as a Panel member vis-a-vis what you had listed as your agenda for the Player Panel elections?

I couldn’t do much of my agendas as ITF was more focused on getting tennis back on track after covid. Last year there were 200 tournaments, and it’s 50% less this year. They are busy with coordination with countries to host tournaments. Even this set of Indian tournaments were decided very late

But ITF is settling back to normalcy and I will try to push my agendas whenever the time is right!

Q) Any aspects that are high on your priority list to make progress/resolve as an ITF panel member?

The one would be rankings-wise, since the allocation of points to ITF event is lesser after the gap in play. It’s not ideal for a tennis player to win 10 Futures to get a chance to play in Challenger events. We are hoping that it would be changed back in 2022 as every ITF player needs that

Q) Are there any key changes/improvements from the recent past that you would like to highlight?

The resort rules have changed. Earlier, the players had to pay $15/hour to book a court. Now it’s $15/day. You can also book the courts through third party sites. And then, ITF is really pushing to conduct as many tournaments as possible. So that’s good!

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