“The focus is guiding our doubles players to transition to the ATP Tour” – Coach Balachandran Manikkath on the Doubles Dream of India project

Coach Balachandran Manikkath spoke with Indian Tennis Daily about the the Doubles Dream of India project. He also gave his thoughts on its potential impact on Indian tennis, with the most recent success story being the 2 Challenger title wins in the 3 weeks of ATP Challengers in India in Feb-Mar 2023.

Talk about your involvement in the Doubles Dream of India project so far. 

I was roped in starting with the Doubles Camp organized in Dubai. Rohan Bopanna, Mr Kishore Patil of KPIT and PMDTA have conceived this plan to grow the base of doubles in Indian Tennis so that we continue to have representation of Indian Tennis at the very elite level. 

The camp in Dubai was spearheaded by Coach Jeff Coetzee and it was focused on doubles focused preparation and fine-tuning of the skills and the tactical approaches. 

The goal of the programme is to have an Olympic medal in Doubles. The program started with Mens and there is a similar program coming up for Womens as well. 

The objective of this programme is to provide a support system including traveling coaches and physios for these players to excel and fully focus on maximizing their chances of winning. For example, we had former World No. 6 Julian Knowle supporting Jeevan and Balaji at the ATP 250 event in France. 

Similarly, Coach John Farrington was there with Yuki and Saketh for the ATP Tour events in Dallas and Florida to ensure they are best equipped for success. I am there with the boys for the Challenger circuit in India.

We have 11 players inside the top-170 now. 

Irrespective of singles or doubles – it is extremely important that we continue to have Indian representation at the elite level in Tennis. Watching someone from their country succeed at the highest level will inspire the next generation to take up the sport. 

We have a good solid base of players now. The focus is on guiding them towards transitioning to the ATP Tour and more importantly, that they are well supported to remain at that level and establish themselves.

Thoughts on Team BalaJee and the upcomers Anirudh Chandrasekhar, Vijay Prashanth and Arjun Kadhe.

I have known Balaji and Jeevan for a long time. I have always believed in their games and on how they complement each other. Balaji brings in that explosive game while Jeevan is the analytical one and is very crafty. I remember them pairing up for the ATP Chennai Open way back in 2012 and playing a solid match against Rajeev Ram and Scott Lipsky. They are well positioned towards having a solid year in 2023. 

Anirudh is someone who has decided to focus on Doubles at a very young age. He has been continually fine tuning his craft towards achieving success in doubles. Given his early transition, he is still only 24 and so has many years ahead of him to build on things further and become a solid tour level doubles player for India. He has that perfect partner in Vijay Prashanth, who with all his experience on the circuit, can guide Anirudh and bring in that much needed understanding to excel at the elite level. 

Arjun had also started focusing on doubles early and has established himself as a solid doubles player on the ATP Challenger Tour. He had 2 Challenger finals this year already. His game is gearing up towards making the next jump and would greatly benefit from having a long term doubles partner whom he can regularly play with.

You have been with the Rohan Bopanna Tennis Academy (RBTA) for 3 years now. What has been the most satisfying aspect of this journey?

We have been able to build a solid team of coaches on top of a common structure and they have started to nurture some top quality players on their own which has been the most satisfying aspect for me. 

Earlier as a consultant coach, I was involved directly with the players. However at RBTA, we have been able to multiply the impact by coming together and building a strong team. 

We have young talents coming up in the Junior rankings from our academy. I had Rethin practice with the likes of Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, Sriram Balaji and others at the ATP Challenger here in Chennai and so he is gaining that required exposure on what it takes to compete at the pro level. 

We are working on developing collaboration with academies in Europe and USA where we can have our players practice and train there for a couple of months to gain that exposure on a regular basis. We will have few of our players traveling to Europe this summer for the clay court season.”

On the Chennai Open ATP Challenger 2023

What are your thoughts on the Chennai Open so far and how the Indian players did in the doubles draw?

Chennai Open, as usual, was very well organized. The stadium and the courts are great. So that side is perfect and the weather was getting warmer through the week. Coming to Indian players in doubles we have always had success and Arjun, Vijay and Anirudh had a good run overall. So, it’s looking good. And with the new program of Doubles Dream of India, it’s good to see the players winning two of the three Challengers in India.

Arjun Kadhe mentioned after his win in the Doubles finals that he has felt more relaxed since the program began as he was getting more support. Can you add to that on how this program has helped players so far?

It helped the younger players get clarity and we all trained together. It was very motivating for them to see the support given to them and everybody wants to prove a point. As they get into the tour, there is support again. So there is a huge motivation for every player in the program to get their ranking higher and higher. It’s a lot more stressful out there on their own. Now with on-court coaching allowed, it helps to have a coach to give that tip which helps them win the point. With this program we have physios with us too. So, players as soon as they finish, they are getting their body attended to. So, they’re coming in good physical shape and also in a good frame of mind knowing that during the match they have support and I think that has made a big difference. The advantage I have is I know these boys for a long time, so it helps to have that also.

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