Cesar Morales is Technical Director of PBI (Peter Burwash International) Tennis Academy at CSE Bangalore. Cesar has worked with Academies, Clubs, Federations and programs all over the world. Some of the best upcoming female athletes in Indian Tennis are currently based under him.
Recently Sahaja Yamalapalli credited Coach Cesar for being able to transform her game to a better level and for also giving a more clearer understanding about her own game.
ITD Bangalore member Manasa Joshi caught up with Cesar for an interview. Excerpts below.
Can you talk through your journey into Tennis and as a Coach so far?
As a player, I played through college and then Pro tennis, just 2 Pro tournaments. I realised that I was not very good at the sport when it came to the pro playing career, but I’ve been coaching through college for some extra money and I realised that I love coaching.
This was back in 2001 and then all the way through to 2005 till I graduated. I was supposed to go to Medical school. I finished with a biology major and chemistry minor and I decided to give it all up. So I graduated with my BA and then went over to coaching and I’ve been coaching now for 21 years.
I was able to start my own academy with the whole infrastructure in Chicago. Most of my life then was based there. Then in about 2015-2016, I started coming to India and consulting in other countries / federations / pro players and other types of programs. I focus on how to enhance their game from their technical, tactical, to their physical, to their mental, and making sure that we come up with an ecosystem and a holistic view of the whole athlete.
This is no different than what Pro soccer / basketball / cricket players do. This is exactly what the best players in the world are doing, and this is exactly what I do. So I put programs together where these players are able to enhance and maximise their potential
You had a long journey at Ace Tennis Academy as its owner and head coach in Illinois. What made you decide to move on.
I still own the rights to Ace Tennis. It was my brainchild back in February 2009 when we started this whole journey. I came from an academy program as a junior. I used to travel down to South Carolina and I trained there as a junior and I loved the atmosphere. As I transitioned to a coach from being a player, I wanted the same atmosphere. So I started developing this whole idea and the idea truly has been the platform for what we do everywhere else.
So even though the Ace Academy building has been shut down in 2017, the ideas continue and that’s what’s helped me. The move is pretty simple as we had to close down the facility due to financial reasons as it was not viable anymore. But the intellectual property will be used.
This is exactly what we use now here at PBI in Bangalore. We still have the connections in Germany, Spain and the US to make sure that the players keep improving.
Talk about your stint with the Nepalese Tennis team
The story still continues. I have one Nepalese player with me right now and another one is coming over on Saturday. The federation is very small. They are very talented players and extremely hard working.
This is a very special story. I went over first back in Jan 2020 for 2 weeks with the federation. It was a camp for the best girls in the age groups of 12s,14s, 16s, and 18s. So we started camp out there for two weeks to analyse the players and the plan was for me to come in every three months for about two weeks to work with them and also to work with them remotely.
Then I went to my home base in Spain and as agreed came back in March 2020. Before we knew it, the world started shutting down. So I got stuck in Nepal for a year. During this time, we moved from federation work to a private company – we were able to do wonders with the players and at the same time, enhanced the standard of the coaches there. I have one excellent Nepali coach here with me at PBI Bangalore now.
We were able to win the first ever ITF tourney for Nepal when we were in Pakistan, so we are very proud of that. The relationship with those guys still continues.
Talk about your move to India. What made you commit full time to PBI / CSE Tennis Academy in Bangalore?
Some background – So I used to travel around the world for different commitments but Spain became my homebase over time. My girlfriend was also based there back then. I was two minutes away from the beach. I was working with about 10 pro players, consulting and working only about eight hours a day and then the rest of time, there was some planning or relaxing. My life was set.
Then all of a sudden PBI called in and the first time they called, I told them – No, thank you. I didn’t want to hear the pitch, nothing. But they kept calling and I relented and said, okay guys, what’s going on? They knew my background and that we take players from one level to many levels up and then I said, okay, tell me exactly what’s going on and they showed me the infrastructure.
I actually was in India back in 2016-17 and even in 2020, I worked in Gujarat. So I knew a bit about India, things didn’t go well and I did not want to come back. They showed me the infrastructure – I was extremely excited and I said this is one of the best infrastructure in the world.
The indoor courts, the equipment , the statistical analysis and so on. The one thing that we do is – we do everything with science and maths. My background is biology and chemistry. I am a scientist in a way to make sure that we have the best numbers for the players to understand.
Besides that, Bangalore is an interesting place to develop players in an extremely good way. Anytime you train at high altitude, it helps with your physical conditioning. Secondly, the weather is not extreme in Bangalore, unlike other parts of India.
Another aspect is that the Indian population is ready for an world champion. So now we have the ecosystem, the desire of the players and the parents and the population – then it was a no brainer in the end.
There is no excuse to not produce very good players from this academy and we got lucky already to start really making headway with a couple of players that we have here.
About Sahaja Yamalapalli
When did you first see Sahaja and your initial involvement? Your initial assessment of the strengths / areas that can be further improved.
When Sahaja reached out, we had the standard approach with pro players where they come out for trial for 3 days – take a look at what we do. All the facets of training that we focus on, both the mental and the physical aspects.
The first day that she came over, she made a huge impression. She is humble but hungry. She is a complete professional. We say show up at 08.30 AM and she is here at 08.00 AM. When the practice ends, she is here asking further questions and doing whatever is needed from her.
From what we saw during those 3 days, we decided that this is the kind of person (leave aside player part) we need at PBI. As a player, she was already phenomenal. It is something that she had with the coaching team from the past – they all did a good job.
Now it was time to step up to the next level. We saw the game, the potential, how much she suffocates the opponent and so on. She has no fear. There are a lot of players that have fear of winning, they have the opportunity to win, and they don’t go for it. They back off and they’d let the other player dictate but not with her. If the opportunity of winning is there, she’ll take it. She might miss, but at the end of the day, the decision of winning or losing happens on her racquet, and that’s what we saw from her from the very get-go.
Our job was to make sure that she is in a professional program when it comes to planning, the travel, the points setting – everything for her to succeed as a professional. So in that aspect we’ve been very very lucky to have Sahaja and we hope she feels the same way.
Any specifics that you focused on, as the immediate priority
This is not just with Sahaja but with a lot of the pro players, they move laterally a lot. The issue is when they get the opportunity, they let the ball come to them – they don’t attack it. And on the other hand, when needed, they don’t move back enough. So we had to work on something called positive and negative angles so that they are moving more as an X instead of just parallel to the baseline. This was the first thing we did.
From there, we knew that she was very steady on both the forehand and the backhand but the strokes were not big enough. So we started working on kinetic energy. We knew that she was already a very good athlete and that is where she is able to pick up the concepts very quickly.
The service was a complete makeover of what it was before. We need a bigger service as she climbs up the rankings – we need bigger weapons.
Over the past couple of months, we have also been focusing on finishing at the net. It is one of the big reasons why we ended up winning the ITF $25K Gurgaon because we were coming more often to the net while every other player remained parked behind to the baseline.
Sahaja attributed her $25k win in Gurugram for the aggression you brought into her game. Any thoughts.
She had the aggression in her game already. It was our job to fine tune and get it out. We noticed that players usually wait for the players and we here do not wait for the ball.
The difference between players in moving up the ranking groups (1000s, 700s, 500s, 300s) is that they take the opportunities much sooner than the other players who are lower ranked.
What do you see as the path forward for Sahaja?
Sky’s the limit. She is climbing up the ladder really quickly. The athleticism is there. I can’t emphasise enough – she is humble but hungry.
She will be the best Indian player out there at some point most likely. We are not trying to be the best Indian player but one of the best players in the world. That is the mission. We have one of the best facilities in the world with some of the best coaches. So we should not be comparing ourselves to what is here but what is out there.
The path forward is to make Sahaja the best player that she can be and if we are able to do that, she would be one of the best players in the world.
When did you first see Shrivalli and your initial involvement? Your initial assessment of the strengths / areas that can be further improved.
Shrivalli – she is not just a good athlete but she is a physical specimen. She is strong, tall and has all the tools. We always tell her – what do you do with the horses – we make them sprint. She is an absolute purebread of an athlete.
She matches us in terms of when we go out there, we are extremely intense with what we do. She is smart – so if we bring in a pattern or a concept, she is able to grasp – asks the right questions and then once it makes sense to her, implements them.
Her game is technically strong. We are cleaning up her movements. The mentality is there. We have been together for about 2 months now. It is about putting everything together so that she is able to shine in the prime spot.
Any specifics that you focused on, as the immediate priority?
Same as Sahaja – her movement. It is not just about moving laterally but also about forward and back movement. We are also working on making her a more aggressive player – she has all the tools. It is about taking that aggressive approach and applying it to the ball.
She had a good run in Kazakhstan where She and Vaidehi had a good run to the semis.
What do you see as the path forward for Shrivalli?
Both Shrivalli and Sahaja are on the same trajectory. It is the same answer for both. We just focus on the process, making Shrivalli the best player that she can be. Their potential is extremely high. They should become the best players in India within the next few months / years and then we keep climbing higher. The goal is worldwide.
About Rishi Reddy
Rishi has had a couple of back to back quarters at $15Ks in Sri Lanka. Your initial assessment of the strengths / areas that can be further improved.
Rishi Reddy is also a special talent. He is hungry. He really believes in the mental health of the game. He is a quick mover, loads well. One thing that we are working with him on – he loads really well but he needs to release that load well. He builds so much energy into the shot that he needs to release it into the shot itself.
He is focusing on the things he wants and we are working with him on building a bigger game – no different compared to the girls as well.
Any specifics that you focused on, as the immediate priority?
It might be repetitive but it is not different – move forward a bit more, make sure we hit more winners. Even if they are hitting a few errors, if they overall net positive on winners – errors count, then they are going to win more matches.
So we need all these players to be playing more aggressively.
About PBI / CSE Tennis Academy
What are your plans for this academy and what are you most looking forward to?
We have right now the best program in India. There is no doubt about it. We follow Science and Maths. Everything we do here is through scientific analysis. We have Cameras on court and we make sure to get the matches recorded. We send it to a team that does the stats and the analytics and we get it back.
We have the on-court access of the tactical and the technical aspects. We have the physios. We have a sports psychologist as well. We have the Sports assessments that deal with the analytics.
PBI is a scholar academy in the true sense. A lot of Tennis centres call themselves Academies – they are not academies. Academy is education.
The goal is to keep this group of Pro players going. We have a group now of U18s, U16s is coming up and U14 too. We also have the Grassroots program – it’s important because at some point, the players leave or retire and the program has to keep continuing. So we have to make sure that we pay as much attention to the little guys as possible.
The goal is to keep driving these programs to become better and better however long I decide to stay here.
How are you going to juggle your time between Pro players and time at the academy? Do we see you travelling with any player on the tour?
I am one of the 14 coaches here. We are hiring 2 more. We will keep growing. We have a travelling coach. At the end of the day, we measure everything. When I or other coaches go, when we are out there – we make sure we get the information. We do our scouting of the opponents – we report back to home base which is discussed as a committee and then we report back to the coach who then works with the player.
At the end of the day, these players have a huge team behind them. Once a month, I travel with these guys. I don’t sleep much and I have a great team behind me to make sure things are covered when I am on the road OR vice-versa when they travel, then I cover them here.