Christopher Marquis, once a professional tennis player, has transitioned into a mentor for some of India’s brightest tennis talents. His experiences working with top players like Karman Kaur Thandi, Sumit Nagal, Divij Sharan, and Indian Junior No.1 Yuvan Nandal have provided him with unique insights into the Indian tennis scene.
In this interview, Marquis sheds light on his coaching journey, the delicate balance between personal and professional commitments, his initiative Graditude, and more.
Q) What triggered your move into coaching?
CM – It was towards the end of me playing pro tournaments, maybe around 2015. I had come to the US and at that time I wanted to stay in Tennis somehow. But I was also aware that I was going nowhere as I had no one to guide me and no team around me. I was lost. I took up coaching for fun, just to try something new.
There was a small country club in The Hamptons. I actually really enjoyed it. My first class was with very small kids – 5 years old. I was so nervous because I didn’t know what do. But later I got comfortable and started doing more of it. I wasn’t doing it all the time, but I used to do lot of summer camps. I realised I had the ability to talk to people, find out what’s going on with them, and find a solution somehow. I thought that was a good way to get into it.
Then I got a call from an academy in New Jersey and they were looking to hire a coach for their high performance team. The head coach was a player from Argentina. He was 80 in the world. I thought that would be good. I always kept putting my nose in wherever I thought I could learn and grow. I got more and more into it with time.
Marquis during his playing days
Initial days in coaching
Q) You’ve been travelling with several top Indian players – Karman (Thandi), Sumit (Nagal), Yuvan (Nandal). How has the experience been?
CM – Even back in 2019, I had got a short opportunity with Divij (Sharan). I travelled for 6-7 weeks with him for the US Open Series, ending with the US Open. Now if I look back, I probably wasn’t of much help to him at that time. But I really learnt and grew. I saw how things were happening. That was when I made a goal that I want to do this. It was the highest level there is in Tennis. Everyone was trying to be their best in their own way. And Divij is so disciplined. I started off there.
Recently, since last October, I got a chance to work with Karman. Then with Yuvan. And then a little bit with Sumit in the middle. The thing with Sumit is, the relationship is a little different there. It was more so as a friend. There is a great team that he has. And I’ve known Sumit for a really long time. So with him, it’s in a different capacity. Nonetheless, it was very eye-opening to understand him and his struggles on Tour. The level that he has to produce every single time. How hard everyone works all the time. Doesn’t matter the main Tour or Challengers, they’re all working so hard. There’s just so much competition. Getting exposed to that level of Tennis, the team around the player also has to work very hard.
Working with Karman is again different. You are working more with emotions also. But still, everyone is working so hard. There are lot of holes though. The level is very up and down in Women’s. There are many ways to break into the top. There is less variation, I would say, as compared to men’s tennis.
With Yuvan, juniors is a whole other world honestly. Everyone is growing at their own pace – physically and mentally. Some of them mature very very quickly. They find a way to the top. Others take some time. What I’ve noticed travelling with Yuvan is that the kids have some serious confidence and belief. Again, just very hard working. The grassroots and programs set around Juniors these days is just amazing. They’re being taught to grow the right way.
Marquis with Nagal, Sharan, Thandi, and Nandal (L to R)
Q) All three of these players have had their recent struggles with injuries. It’s been a problem with Indian Tennis for a long time. What do you think Indian players need to do to stay injury free more often?
CM – You’re right. We see a lot of injuries in Indian Tennis. Even physically not everyone is up there. Even with Sumit, Karman, Yuvan, you don’t see them doing well week after week. You see them breaking down physically.
I would point it out to program. Somebody has to sit down and research what is being done at the highest level internationally, and then expose the Indian system to that. Even though these guys train outside, it’s not consistent. They are catching up with the others slowly. It could be a lot of things, but it has to do with foundations, grassroots. We need to teach players from a young age to be athletes first, and tennis players after. It’s growing now, people are focusing on it. You’ll probably feel more good juniors coming from India.
Q) You travel a lot. Travelling comes with its share of complications. And you also got married recently. How tough has it been to balance personal and professional life?
CM – Very tough. Travelling, in general, whether you are a player or a coach, is exhausting. The way the schedule is made for these players, it’s very tough. It’s one of the most important components of the sport that you have to acknowledge as a player and accept that this is the life you’re going to be putting yourself through.
Personally, I have always enjoyed all of this. It’s something I always wanted. Getting married also was something that I always wanted. It happened simultaneously. I was just working hard year after year.
Marquis with wife, Prerana Mytri, a former professional tennis player herself
Q) You also run this initiative called Graditude. Could you tell us a bit about it?
CM – I had small academy running in New Jersey that shut down around covid. In New Jersey, a lot of kids are playing good tennis but all of them wanted to go to college. They used to use tennis as a means to get some scholarship or an extra-curricular. I got used to working with players to help them get into colleges over there.
And then when I came back to India around end of covid, a friend of mine, Shreya Pasricha, was already working with a company that was doing the same thing. She had also been to college herself. She had also helped me out with my academy in the US when she was there one summer. We kept in touch. She came up with the idea of doing it on her own. Even looking back at my life, I had a chance to go to US College but I didn’t take it because I did not have the right guidance.
Somdev (Devvarman), Sanam (Singh), and you can name so many on the ATP and WTA Tour, who have gone to college and have had amazing careers. When I came back to India, I saw there was still lack of awareness here about US College Tennis. We thought why not try build that awareness. Which is when “Graditude” started. So we give players the right information, connect them with people who’ve gone there. Professional tennis is not everyone’s cup of tea. That awareness is lacking. So just educating players on the right career path is the goal.
Marquis with Graditude co-founder Shreya Pasricha
Q) Indian Tennis parents are still reluctant to send their kids to the US for College Tennis as they think it might cause a break in momentum and negatively affect odds of becoming a professional. What would be your argument to them?
CM – Like you said, it’s about awareness. That’s what we try to do. We connect parents to players who are in college or went there in the past and hear first hand from them. Obviously, there are schools that don’t have the best tennis programs. You have to take certain steps to be able to go to a college with a good tennis program and get a good scholarship from there. Even that information needs to be out there. People assume they can go to a Division 1 school with a full scholarship. So the expectation setting has to be there.
Now the NCAA has this Accelerator program running where the Top 20 or 25 College Tennis players have special spots for them in ATP Challenger and ITF Futures events so that they can get a ranking and turn pro after. College is catering to guys who want to turn pro.