The Indian No.5 in doubles, Sriram Balaji, was ranked 143 in the ATP Rankings when the covid pandemic brought the tennis world to a standstill in March 2020. After resumption, Balaji mostly plied his trade on the ATP Challenger Tour, making 11 QFs, 3 SFs, & 1 Final. Despite this, Balaji’s ranking plummeted to 171. This is primarily because the tweaks ATP made to its ranking system wherein players were not dropping points, making it tough to go up the rankings.

In a chat along the sidelines of the ATP Braunschweig Challenger in Germany, Balaji shares details about how tough life has been for players amidst the pandemic & much more –

Q) You have been playing with Margaroli quite regularly. Does it help to play regularly with one partner?

Definitely it helps, because you can’t be changing your partners. You need to know in and out about your partner and he needs to know the same about you. That’s how I worked in the past, me and Vishnu Vardhan played for nearly 3-4 years and that was the best partnership I’ve ever had till now. This year for a couple of weeks, I played with Jeevan and also trained pre-season last year with him where we wanted to play together which went well. Last year when the first wave was settling down and when the tour was resuming, I had to find someone for the first 4 weeks, I played with four different partners and in one reached the finals with Divij Sharan (Challenger Prostejov).

Thereafter it was very difficult in the last minute to find a partner with uncertainty of getting into the tournament, in that situation, you need somebody in a similar ranking to get into the tournaments, then Me and Margaroli started working together and built a good team, so that’s when I realized, at the end of the year partnering Margaroli for 6 week, where we made 2 semis and 3 quarters, of course, quarters is not the results we wanted but semis at least we had a short to make finals where a couple of matches point in 2 games didn’t go our way..

Divij Sharan and Sriram Balaji finished runners-up in Prostejov in 2020

This year also we started together because I got married in February so i couldn’t play many tournaments in January and February, so the first tour event was with Margaroli in Singapore in February and then I travelled to Nur Sultan to play with a new partner but unfortunately, he lost his singles match and wanted to leave so we had to give a walkover. I felt terrible to spend money to travel all the way and then not play amidst the Covid-19 situation. So, this is another reason for me to choose a set partner, preferably a doubles player so he doesn’t tank doubles and go away. Now me and Margaroli are working together for few weeks even though we lost early. Couple of things to develop as a team which clearly did not work today, but hopefully in the coming tournaments.

Luca Margaroli and Sriram Balaji

Q) Do you have any plans to partner an Indian player in the coming tournaments depending on their availability?

I’m already set with Margaroli for the next couple of weeks, we decided to play the next few tournaments and also the rest of the season. With Indian players, i am not sure since Purav and Jeevan are playing together, and obviously Bopanna and Divij are in a different ranking so next set of players who are close me are Ramkumar and Arjun so there might be a chance to play with Arjun at Amersfoort. Ramkumar is playing in the American based tournaments and focussing more on his singles.

Q) Most of your tournaments have been on clay courts. Do you think hard courts would suit your game better? Any plans to play more tournaments on hard?

We had tournaments only on clay and it is not that I am choosing to play on clay. 90% of the tournaments we had are only on clay, probably one or two tournaments I have to travel long to play which could be expensive and many tournaments are happening in Europe so even if i don’t get entry into one, there are chances I could get into another tournament and every tournament is on clay surface. The clay is choosing me and I’m not choosing clay. 

Q) How difficult has the new covid based rankings system been in terms of moving up the rankings in your opinion?

It’s very difficult, for some players it’s beneficial because they are not dropping points at all, till August they are only dropping 50% which is basically they have the points for three years (2019-2022). The points they made in 2019 are being cut in 2022. For other players like me to go up is very difficult, for some players it’s good and for some it’s a struggle.

Q) Now that you’ve moved to doubles exclusively over the past couple of years, how has your training schedule/regimen changed? 

It’s changed a lot to be honest, so basically starting from fitness wise and tennis wise i’m not doing much endurance stuff since you don’t need endurance for doubles. Changed my training routine as well. Practicing more for doubles, serve-volley and serve-return. I’m not focussing too much on grinding from the back. It has changed a lot in the last 2 years. The last one year I have not been getting much chances to play, at least before Covid-19 I used to get a couple of challengers if someone pulls out as a alternate and also win some couple of singles qualifying round matches and I still like playing singles but thats just for fun but of course main focus is on the doubles. 

Sriram Balaji

Q) How is the body coping with fitness and other things?

Body is good and I’m training in Offenbach at the Waske Tennis-University. My wife is also traveling with me so I’m getting home cooked food which is even better. 

Balaji in Germany

Sriram Balaji now pairs with Luca Margaroli at the ATP 500 Hamburg European Open beginning tomorrow. 

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