“Anirudh is young. The doubles journey will be a marathon.” – PC Vignesh, coach / brother of Anirudh Chandrasekhar

He is the man behind India’s young rising doubles star – Anirudh Chandrasekhar. In this interview, PC Vignesh takes us through his own journey, on the rise of Anirudh and his own transition into the role of a coach. 

He is the man behind India’s young rising doubles star – Anirudh Chandrasekhar. In this interview, PC Vignesh takes us through his own journey, on the rise of Anirudh and his own transition into the role of a coach. 

Journey into Tennis. 

My dad used to work in Indian Oil Corporation in Chennai. His colleague was a Table Tennis player and recommended him to put us into an individual sport. That’s how my dad got the idea and we randomly got into Tennis. As we did not have a sporting background, it was all random. I continued to play in Chennai.

At the age of 12 (Anirudh was 1 or 2 yrs old), we moved to Hyderabad as my Uncle used to live there and he suggested training under Coach Nagaraj Sir as his neighbor’s son used to train there. My dad did not know much about Tennis and had no clue about my potential – it was just a blind move to have me continue Tennis with a good coach. 

I did not have great results as a junior. I used to really work hard though and it was only at the age of 18, I won my first AITA National Series event. 

That kickstarted the things. I won the Nationals in Hyderabad. Then I immediately switched to Mens and started grinding it out at the Futures level. 

How was the camaraderie growing up, training with Nagaraj sir and having so many aspiring international players in that cohort?

Vishnu Vardhan was the first one to start off with Nagaraj Sir and in 1998 I joined there and became the second person in that cohort.. We both were the senior most in terms of the number of years we had worked with Nagaraj Sir. We had Saketh Myneni, Suresh Krishna and a couple of others as well but only Vishnu, Saketh and I proceeded to the Men’s tour and started to grind it out there. 

We used to train and compete together. We used to work really hard. In the juniors group, I used to be amongst the bottom most performers but once I finished U18, that’s when I started to beat these guys and get better. 

National tennis champions J. Vishnuvardhan, Suresh Krishna, Saketh Myneni, coach C. V. Nagaraj and P. C. Vignesh at a training session in Hyderabad.. Photo: V.V. Subrahmanyam

PC Vignesh, Vishnu Vardhan, Saketh Myneni, Suresh Krisha and others at the 2002 National School Games

You’ve been a prolific player on the tour. In hindsight – how do you review your career? What surpassed your expectations and what did not?

Overall I am satisfied but I could have done a lot more in doubles. The year I won my first futures in doubles with Sriram Balaji, that is when I injured my shoulder. It was a freak accident where I tried to hit the racquet but in the motion, tried not to as that was the only racquet I had available which I had to keep it going for a tourney next week and so tore my labrum while trying to stop. 

This injury happened during the first round in doubles in Madurai and we still ended up winning the tourney. With the pain and the painkillers, we just continued and won the futures. If I had somehow avoided this injury, maybe I could have continued longer with doubles and maybe I could have had some success in doubles. 

I did not do any surgery. My doctor suggested that it will heal a bit over time but that I would not be as strong as a Tennis player as I was before. I was working on my shoulder rehab.  My doctor in Chennai suggested that I needed to go abroad for that shoulder surgery and it was proving to be quite expensive and so I decided against it. 

After a long rehab time, I continued my tennis but I was starting to focus more on my brother. We ended up playing a lot of doubles together and we ended up making around 8-10 doubles finals in Futures but unfortunately could not win even one. 

I am overall quite satisfied because I was not really a talented player. I put in a lot of hard work to achieve whatever I achieved. If not for the injury, I would have continued Tennis to know how far I could have gone – not saying that I would have had success. 

I was India No. 6. I was in the top-10 in the Indian rankings for about 4-5 years. I was the National Doubles Champion and was in the top-10 of national doubles rankings for quite some time. With the talent and the financial limitations that I had and the hard work that I have put in, I am satisfied with whatever I have achieved. 

You have been grooming Anirudh towards an eventual rise to the ATP Tour as a regular. How and when did this thought for you come about?

During that phase where I was not playing as much Tennis while recuperating from my shoulder injury, I started to notice Anirudh playing the U10s and the U12s and realized that my young brother had some talent. The way he was striking the ball cleanly and he was very smooth. I was impressed. I felt that I should focus some of my time on his tennis. 

He had the talent but the opportunities were not provided to him. I had the problem where I had to travel to play because Indian Railways provided for my employment as a player and I could not lose that. 

PC Vignesh with the Indian Railways Tennis Team in Germany for the World Railways Games

At the age of 16, he won a National Series event in both singles and doubles in Gwalior. That is when I started to give more of my time towards his tennis. I was also in the last stages of my Tennis career and started to transition into the coaching role. 

As a Junior, Anirudh was not a strong boy physically and was maturing. He was a shy person and not the type of personality who could be sent to US College Tennis. 

We started working together more and more and at the age of 17, in his penultimate year as an ITF Junior, we made his ITF debut at the ITF J4 event in Indore. he started off in qualies and made a big run to the semis beating the likes of Nitin Sinha and SD Prajwal Dev. It was amazing to see and he really enjoyed it. We played a few more ITF Junior events before slowly transitioning to the ITF Futures circuit. 

Whenever I was traveling, I started to take him along. Again in the first series of ITF events we played abroad in Egypt in 2016, he won all the qualifying matches and won a main draw match to earn an ATP point in one of the weeks. This made it easier then to get slotted into the main draw of doubles as we had a ranking now. 

We started playing doubles together and gradually things started falling into place. 

What do you think clicked in your game styles in doubles?

I was a mature player by then and was absorbing a lot of the pressure for us in doubles. I tried to keep it simple for young Anirudh as we discussed what he specifically needs to focus on in doubles during those matches and rest of the aspects in those matches were handled by me. I was able to provide that clarity. 

We had the age gap of 11 years and so he used to blindly follow what I used to say. So that clarity of thought made it a lot easier for him. 

The leftie-rightie combination also helped. Gradually as he grew older, his game started to really step up. Young Anirudh has the amazing ability of being calm. He is a fighter and he never gives up. There are so many matches where he played 3 sets. He would fight – irrespective of whether it resulted in a win or a loss. 

You both had a lot of doubles finals but no title. Why so?

I used to play both singles and doubles in the tourneys. So it used to be on an average of 5-7 matches in total (singles and doubles combined) by the time we reached semis or finals and as my doctor called out, I used to lose strength in my shoulder after 4-5 matches on the trot. 

So by the time of semis or finals, my serve used to crack and become very very slow. It was a different pressure as I was not 100% physically and Anirudh was also very young at that time. 

I still feel bad for that and I wish we get one more tournament in Futures where we could lift the title. 

Anirudh and Vignesh with the Futures final in Zimbabwe

You both played together at the ATP Cassis Challenger in France in September 2021 on a wildcard. 

I was traveling with Sriram Balaji at that time. Anirudh was with me as it was a trial time where he was traveling with me to get a feel for the Challenger circuit. I happened to tell Anirudh that just apply for a wild card and that we will see what happens. We ended up getting lucky and played in the main draw. 

We played a very good match actually. We lost 4-6 4-6 to Fernando Romboli (BRA, career high of 88) and Ernesto Escobedo (USA, career high of 67). I was not playing Tennis regularly but with that little tennis itself, we were able to make a close match out of it. Anirudh had become stronger and was handling much more than what used to happen before. 

During the pandemic – Anirudh was doing InstagramLive interviews – he came across as extremely organized, very analytical, calm and composed.  Whose thought was this?

Anirudh is very calm and composed as you said. However at times he does not open up and is not vocal about things. On the other hand, I am a very demanding coach – I want the player to be very open and direct in what things are not working. He knows that he can do it irrespective even if things are not done well on a day. Whereas I needed him to open up so that I know better on how I can add much more value to him. 

I used to give him books to read and analyze things. So the Instagram Live interviews were a part of making him go outside his comfort zone, talk to people and open himself up a bit more. This is not for publicity but it was for his own personal growth. 

To hear from you and others that he was analytical and well organized – it feels nice. He has grown more confident now gradually and so these small baby steps may have contributed.

On the switch to focus on doubles

During the pandemic upon resumption of Tennis, Anirudh lost a few close matches where he could not convert the match points. One of them was contributed by an umpiring error as well and Anirudh was really upset and in a bad mental state. This was in singles. 

On the other hand, he was really in a good state in doubles, enjoying himself and making his presence felt on the court. 

Noticing this – I had a conversation with Anirudh about making the switch to doubles. It is a sport with two disciplines and if our strength is in doubles, why not we start focusing on it early. Anirudh had the game, the belief and the right desire to excel in doubles – so why not?

Once we made the switch, he started getting some good results early – won a title in Indore. Reached a final with Vishnu. 

Anirudh has been playing with Vijay since 2019. What’s the thought process behind this partnership?

The partnership with Vijay existed in China before the pandemic. Back then, both Vijay and Anirudh were still focused on their singles careers too. 

Post the pandemic, Vijay also wanted to focus purely on doubles for sometime and see how it goes. I was also open as I wanted Anirudh to travel, gain the exposure to playing in Europe and they started getting some good results. 

Luckily Anirudh got a schengen visa for 2 years and so that helped as well. 

Anirudh and Vijay with the ITF Futures Final run in 2019 in China

Anirudh is in the top-170 of the rankings now and with a couple of Challenger finals already. Where do you see the path from here?

Really satisfied with the journey so far. I would not say that we planned and it happened. We have been taking some small steps and have been fortunate enough to make some things happen. 

The path ahead – the priority is to crack the top-100. Just keep improving and moving ahead. Lets not add too much pressure on ourselves and focus on playing freely. 

Doubles is very uncertain with its format as such. Additionally, we only share part of the court. So there are many variables involved and it is not completely in your control. Additionally, we need to keep making smart decisions in terms of choice of tournaments. 

Anirudh is young. The doubles journey will be a marathon and we are prepared to run the marathon now. 

Any aspects of his game that you are focusing on? He has become more explosive on his forehand and serve in these few months. 

You have spotted the right aspects. The serve, the forehand and the explosiveness – we have worked a lot on those 3 things. There is further scope for improvement as he can become much better on serve. 

We are working on becoming better on the return games – we could already see some improvements. It is becoming stronger. The aim is to build on it further. 

He is good with the serve and the 1st and the 2nd volleys but if he can bring much more clarity and take ownership at the net – these overall changes can help him reach the top-100 goal. 

Tennis is a very expensive sport. Could you talk through the people behind Anirudh in this journey so far?

It is only family as of now. We would greatly appreciate any support from outside. From my life experience and the journey with Anirudh so far, what I have realized is – this is an investment. The meager earnings from Tennis will go back into Tennis again. 

We will continue putting in money to better our tennis and not focus on the return on investment. Anirudh has age on his side and it’s important to continue to focus on development. 

If help comes, it will be nice. If not, we will work our way. If we keep persisting, something will come up in the longer run. I am a positive person that way. 

Anirudh was fortunate to play the Club matches in Germany and so he makes some little money there. He invests that back into Tennis. 

Main thing is to not focus on saving now and focus on improving Tennis with the longer term view in mind. Invest, invest, invest and you will get better. You can save money later on. 

Talk about your transition from being a player to a coach role. How has been that journey for you?

I love coaching. I love being on the tennis court. I can comfortably be on the tennis court for an entire day with complete enjoyment and passion. So coaching is something that I am passionate about. 

I am tactically strong as a coach. I am a very demanding coach and I am confident in my abilities as a coach. The transition was smooth due to my passion for this. I do not have any academy as such but it can happen eventually. 

I am happy that Anirudh Chandrasekhar is doing well which is adding value to my work and giving a sense of satisfaction and so I have to thank Anirudh for that. 

With Anirudh, it is a special relationship as I don multiple roles given the 11-yr age gap between us. I am his coach, his elder brother and given the age gap – have to also care for him as a father figure. This has given me the perspective of nurturing a Tennis player journey from all facets. 

You have primarily focused on Anirudh so far. Are you looking at coaching others as well?

I am open to helping players as a traveling coach as I am confident of adding value to them. I have seen enough Tennis and know a lot of players trying to work their way up. I can definitely help them achieve their potential.

Players are switching to doubles at an early age these days. Given the rise in doubles standards – how early do you think players should dedicate and what are some of the factors? 

My thought is that the switch should happen to whatever that gives the player the most happiness. Irrespective of singles or doubles: the player is still a very very good Tennis player who happens to find more joy and passion on the doubles side which is reflected in the results. 

My advice to players who are getting into doubles is to show clarity. Stick with it for a longer time – nothing comes early. You have to have clarity in thought process and stick with it, come what may. Make sure you are ready to go through the journey, irrespective of the results. 

Tennis is confidence driven. Everybody ultimately is training for similar hours of time. It’s the confidence and the belief which makes the difference beyond a point. So if doubles is giving you that, then make the switch. 

Thoughts on the finals run in Bengaluru

[R1] d. (WC) SD Prajwal Dev (IND) / Parikshit Somani (IND) 75 62

They started off really well and went up 5-1 but lost concentration and in certain points, the opponent boys played really well which made it 5-5 but then our boys picked up and won the set. It was overall a solid 2nd set and our pair ended up winning 6-2. 

[QF] d. Benjamin Lock (ZIM) / Akira Santilan (AUS) 36 64 12-10

On the previous day, we were practicing in the evenings and on the other courts. We had to play in the morning and the conditions were a bit different and it was slightly windy. They had a tough time in the practice and were not able to get into rhythm. So we had a mental block going into the match.

Our opponent Akira was not serving great and had several double faults. Even our boys did not serve great but somehow they hung in, saved a match point in the super tie break and found a way to win. 

[SF] d. (4) Arjun Kadhe (IND) / Maximilian Neuchrist (AUT), 76(1) 46 [10-2]

At the start of the match, Anirudh and Vijay were really on top. Somehow they lost the way, traded a few breaks and ended up winning in the tie breaker. They had a good start going up a break in the 2nd set but slowed down a bit for some reason, started to overthink a bit in my opinion. The super tiebreak was spot on though. 

[F] l. Yunseong Chung (KOR)/ Yu Hsiou Hsu (KOR) 36 67(7) 9-11

The start was electric. It was the best beginning that I have seen them have in a match. The return game to break the opponent was superb. They raced to a 5-2 lead. Anirudh was finding it a bit difficult with his first serve hitting the net a lot but that did not impact the match as they still ended up winning the first set. 

In the 2nd set, Anirudh found the range with his serve and was going well. Unfortunately, our boys lost the serve after being 30-0 up on Anirudh serve. The opponents hit 2 return winners which could have been avoided as we could have covered that area but irrespective the boys fought back well to break the opponent serve to take it to the tie-break. In the 2nd set, we had a match point on return but missed the return. 

The super tiebreaker was very close and there were two unnecessary wrong calls by the chair umpire at 6-7 and 9-9. The 6-7 call made it 6-8 and then we were down 6-9 and Anirudh had to serve out and our team managed to get those two points. Then at 9-9, it was an extremely well played point but the chair umpire overruled and then it was tough to come back. 

Overall in the final, our boys gave the opponent too many looks at our second serve. So even after the great first set, from the opponent perspective, you would always feel that you were in the game. We did not show them our powerful first serves. So while we were still winning with our play, it was not a convincing hold of serves. So the serving could have been better because with the start we had, we should have closed out the match in straight sets. 

Our boys showed the fight and hung in there even when we were not playing our best tennis, which was a big plus. This helped us in having a good run to the finals. 

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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