“Shruti Ahlawat has another gear that she can play at” – Coach Stephen Koon, Impact Tennis Academy

Mr Stephen Koon is a well known name in Global and Indian Tennis. Apart from being involved with the likes of Yuki Bhambri and Pranjala Yadlapalli – Mr Koon of Impact Tennis Academy is currently shaping the journeys of couple of India`s best juniors Shruti Ahlawat and Yuvan Nandal. 

In this interview, Mr. Koon shares his thoughts on Shruti`s big title win in Pune, her future prospects and on Yuvan Nandal. 

Talk about the title win by Shruti Ahlawat. How important was this tourney for her growth and how was the preparation coming in?

It is all credit to her for doing the work and for her Grandfather and Family for supporting her and trusting us. It’s a great first step and an encouragement for her that she is on a good path. And let’s be fair…..She deserves it. 

She came in after a not so good last few months in Europe but she came in with the right mentality and that’s what is most important to me and my team. I was worried how much to push her and what her body could manage so we made a plan and step by step made improvements everyday.

Impact Tennis Academy, not being a big academy and not taking many students, allowed us to focus and spend time with her to improve her technically, physically, mentally and nutritionally. She did the work.

During the Nonthaburi ATP Challengers held 5 mins from the academy, we had 3 ATP Pros training with us and so she had the chance to hit, hang out, watch and go to the gym with them. 

How was the preparation? When a girl loses 6kg in 6 weeks then we know she is not cutting any corners and is making lots of changes herself. 

How do you review the tourney for Shruti?

She had a mission and we had specific performance goals each match and despite a few setbacks, she got the job done – so we are very proud of her. We still have many things to work on and she knows it but to take the title travelling with no coach or trainer and after many months off from the competition – it is good.

I am a bit disappointed that even though she has won the title, she doesn’t have a racket company in India that would support her for rackets so I am a little worried about her given her history of tennis elbow.

Thoughts on the semis win against Emerson Jones. Shruti was down and out before staging a spirited comeback.

Yuvan was sending me some live scoring and commentary through that match. 1-4 down in the 2nd and again in the 3rd is just plain guts and determination. We have spoken about all the work she did in the past 6 weeks and how if she ever gets challenged she can call on that work to overcome, and happy she was able to pull it out.

Shruti has secured her slot for the Australian Open now – how do you see the path forward now?

Securing a spot for the Australian Open is ok but it is not the main goal. She has a lot to work to improve and will put her head down to work Tuesday morning. 

She has another gear she can play at.

What is the schedule like for the next 2-3 months?

Unfortunately she has to miss JA Japan as it is difficult to get visas to do multiple trips to different countries. She will play Malaysia, Thailand and Korea then take a break and start her pre-season.

What do you think needs to be done so that Shruti can replicate some of this success on the tough European circuit?

She can replicate it next time she gets on the plane to go. 

She wasn’t ready and wasn’t prepared for it.

How do you review the game of Shruti – strengths and areas that you are focusing to improve?

She needs to improve everything – first serve power and placement, agility, stronger posterior chain, core, better use of the left leg on her backhand – too many things and everything. How she is now is not how she will be next year.

But she has the self belief and determination and reads the game quite well 

Lot of Indian juniors tend to struggle with the transition from juniors to the pro tour. How are you approaching this for Shruti with the long term view in mind?

Well, lots of Indian juniors struggle because they didn’t win or develop enough before attempting the transition and had poor guidance from advisors who haven’t had the experience to be giving that advice. There are certain benchmarks and there are physical, technical and especially mental components that are so important to be successful in professional tennis. 

I have even heard that some coaches are telling my players that I injure people and they shouldn’t train with me. I really wish everyone would just support the juniors trying to make it in this very difficult sport. I am not the coach for everybody, I agree with that. 

The players that do the work, do the fitness with the right technique and proper recovery do not get injured. These players (and their parents) that are willing to do the work and that have realistic goals/expectations, I get along with them very well. And it just so happens that the ones with this mentality tend to win a lot.

Shruti is trying to do something that hasn’t been done before. So we really need to make a strong foundation and go step by step. She is only 16 and a long way away, she has to finish one thing before moving to another. 

We changed her fitness – she had good foundational strength but not functional. We worked a lot on basic stuff she hadn’t been taught before just to clean it up.  

She has made quarters in ITF $15K and won some ITF Juniors but she is in no rush to jump levels. She will follow her own path with very little input from anyone except her close team.  

She has a lot of things going for her but also understands she has a lot to do and is willing to do it. The Australian Open is a big goal for us.

Thoughts on Yuvan Nandal – he has secured his spot for the Australian Open as well. 

We lost 2 and 1/2 years because of COVID. He came back in March and we had a lot of things we needed to work on.

It is disappointing that he didn’t take the title in Pune. His tennis was ready but still needs to grow mentally.

Playing the Australian Open would be a great achievement starting from where he was in March. He will enter his last year of juniors next year so playing all the slams is a priority

And the big thing for us at the academy is that my daughter likes him.

What is your assessment of Yuvan – strengths, weaknesses and the long term path from your perspective.

He is confident and works extremely hard. He needs to work smarter and add much more to his game but he is dedicated and has the support of his family (especially his father) and he is not afraid of anything.

He recently had the chance to hit and train with Nicola Kuhn, Jason Jung and Ly Nam Hoang for 3 weeks while they were based at the Academy. He even got to hit with Sid Rawat and Prajnesh Gunneswaran once so he is well aware of his deficiencies and the level required.

Indian based in the Alps region. Works for an IT firm during the weekdays und auch lernt Deutsch. On the weekends, he can be traced somewhere in the Mountains or on backpacker trips. Is a Social Worker / Activist with a deeper interest for Indian / Swiss tennis from the past year.

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