During the Diwali holidays, I was back at home in Pune. One early morning there, I got to visit Bounce Sports Academy situated at Law College Road. I got there and saw current India’s Women No. 3 Rutuja Bhosale and Girls No. 2 Vaishnavi Adkar in training under the watchful eye of coach Kedar Shah sir. Between training breaks, Shah sir spoke to me about his hard-working students at length. Here’s what he told me –
On how he switched from playing to coaching
I was a professional on the tour for a few years. I used to play a lot of ITF and AITA tournaments. I had a tennis elbow injury when I was 17 or 18 and that was kind of recurring. So, every year I had to wait for a few months to recover. So by the age of 21-22, I thought I might as well start coaching. So, I started at Deccan Gymkhana under Nandan Bal. I started with him for part-time coaching. I used to play for three hours and coached for two hours. Somehow, I liked that. I started enjoying coaching. Back then, both Hemant Bendre and Nandan Bal said I have a knack for coaching, and I should continue coaching. So I did my Master’s in the United Kingdom and in the meantime, I started coaching. And then it continued and here we are.
On the success of his students at the 36th National Games in Gujarat
It was an excellent outing! Out of the five players that represented Maharashtra, three were from Bounce Sports Academy. When the team games started, I wasn’t expected to go – I just wanted them to go there and have a good time. During the individual games, Rutuja asked me – “Sir, why don’t you come? It will help us for the next couple of days.” So that’s when I went there. I loved the whole premises that were set up in Ahmedabad. The Games were excellently organised and conducted.
The conditions were brutal though. It was very hot and the courts were not up to the mark. They were new courts but there were a lot of bounces. I loved the way Rutuja fought it out in the singles, and doubles which she won with Vaishnavi. She played great in Mixed Doubles as well. For five-six days they had on average three matches to play – so that was quite tough for them. Apart from that – I think the girls did excellent, especially Vaishnavi who has started playing the women’s circuit – she played against Zeel (Desai), beating her in the finals as well as playing Ankita (Raina) in doubles, beating her and Vaidehi (Chaudhari) and winning medals – it was a good booster for her. And for Rutuja, the whole physical experience was good. To sustain that many matches daily was positive for her. I’m glad that my student Ishwari Matere was also a part of the medal-winning team.
More on Rutuja Bhosale
Rutuja’s had a good career so far. She has been a member of the Indian team for the Billie Jean King Cup since 2009. At present, she is India’s No. 3 in women’s singles. Though we have a lot of goals to achieve which we have planned for the next year. One of our immediate goals is to get into the Top 200-250 (singles) and Top 120-150 (doubles) of WTA rankings. There are not a lot of weaknesses in Rutuja’s game when it comes to stroking – she is solid on both wings. Another strength of hers is that she is a fighter – mentally she is very strong. That’s really important. She wants to get better. She wants to push herself.
At the same time what I would like to polish with her game is to build more weapons in her game – especially with the serve. Where she can kind of dictate the point with the serve – from the start so she can dominate. I would also like to see her dominate more with the forehand. Schedule-wise, we were looking forward to her going to Australia – but unfortunately, that did not happen. Next, she will play Japan – one is ITF W25 and one is ITF W60. After that, she will travel to Italy and then she will play the Indian circuit. Apart from this, we haven’t planned anything. We will look into all these events and then see.
More on Vaishnavi Adkar
Vaishnavi’s career looks very bright! She is an upcoming player with an excellent work ethic. I rarely hear a “no” from her when I am coaching her. She wants and likes to work hard. As a career path, that’s important because that’s the first thing you see – if the player is willing to go that extra mile. She has not chosen the US college tennis path. She wants to make tennis into a career. She is very level-headed. Mentally strong as well – she wants to push hard. With the game she has I can vouch for her – she will definitely be one of the top players in the women’s circuit – nationally as well as internationally.
One of the major strengths of Vaishanavi’s game is the power she generates. It was clearly visible in her semifinal run in women’s singles at Fenesta Open a few days ago. I believe women’s tennis is heading in that direction – when you see Iga Swiatek or Naomi Osaka or Jessica Pegula – they all generate power and hit the ball hard. And that’s something Vaishnavi loves! There are a lot of areas to improve in her game of course. One is to improve her service power. And number two is improving her retrieving skills – her defensive skills. She is brilliant when she is attacking but when it comes to defence – she sometimes falters – so that’s what we are working on a lot.
She will next travel to Tunisia to play two ITF W15s followed by the ITFs tournaments at home in India.
On Asmi Adkar
Asmi also has an excellent work ethic. She is similar to her sister. She just turned 15 so she is playing the junior circuit. She also wants to make tennis into a career. Being the younger sibling, she has looked up to Vaishnavi and she has matured faster because of that. That’s how she plays her game. She uses her brain more – the tactical aspects. Our plan is for her to play Junior Billie Jean King Cup soon – and for that, she will be India’s No. 1 U16 Girls player by the start of the next year. Next year, we want her to be in the Top 200-300 in ITF World Tennis Tour Junior Rankings so that by the start of her U18s first year, she will be in the Top 200. I think that will be an excellent start to her career.
Asmi’s tactical game is really good. She can really play well on her opponent’s weaknesses. But that’s only good until the junior circuit. Once you start playing 18s and women’s – you need more strengths in your game. I will build her strengths by hitting the ball harder and using that as a variation. Currently, she is only using her opponent’s weaknesses as a variation. Her strengths can be developed and she can start dominating the points. So that’s definitely what I want to work on with her.
Asmi will play on the ITF World Tennis Tour Juniors circuit in India for the rest of the year.
On Siddhant Banthia
Siddhant has been with me since his U12 days so I know him very well. He’s also had a good career so far. He has always been India’s top player – first U14, then U16 and U18. He has chosen the US college route. But he’s played a lot on the ITF Men’s World Tennis Tour. He has done very well in the recent past. In the doubles especially and I am really proud of that. In singles, he has a lot to work on. Men’s tennis is a lot about hitting the ball hard – I believe he is still in his developing stage in that but if he really thinks about it, I think he can surely do well in singles internationally as well.
His strength is his tennis acumen – playing points. He knows the court really well. I think his tennis IQ is one of the best in India. I would like him to improve his serve. Last week, I spoke to him and it does feel like he is improving on that. And more heavy groundstrokes.
As of now, he will play in some ITF tournaments in the USA and he will be back in India in December.
On upcoming players outside of his academy
In juniors, Manas Dhamne is the player to look out for. Because of the way he played and won the ITF JB1 Pune recently. A week later he played the National Games for the Maharashtra men’s team and again in those brutal conditions – he was able to fight back in almost each and every match – I was impressed. That shows a strong character. I see a bright future for him. Aryan Shah is doing well. His recent results speak for themselves. Rushil Khosla has started playing men’s and he has given a tough fight to established Indian players like Nitin Kumar Sinha and Adil Kalyanpur. So these boys are knocking on the door.
In girls, Shruti Ahlawat is doing excellent. Winning the JB1 Pune has boosted her ranking. I think she should be able to play the Junior Australian Open and all the Grand Slams next year. Looking forward to seeing how she does there.
On how Indian tennis can be improved
All the Indian tennis stakeholders have to do their jobs well. They need to improve by 1%-2% each day in their tasks. 1% better than yesterday. A coach has to do more than just coach. The coach’s on-court role expands to tournament planning and management side of things etc. As we were discussing before, the administrators also need to do their jobs properly – give opportunities to these players to play in tournaments. If that all works together, that’s great. More higher-level tournaments at home in India will be beneficial to Indian tennis.
This interview was conducted in person on Wednesday, 26 October 2022.