Fresh from making the final of the ATP Fairfield Challenger which propelled the 18 yr old Nishesh Basavareddy into the top-500 of the ATP Singles Rankings, he was interviewed by John from No Ad No Problem Tennis Podcast.
Excerpts pasted below with permission from John.
So you were still only 18 and you’re now one of just five players born in 2005 to make an ATP Challenger Final. How does it feel? And did you think it would happen this quickly?
Yeah, I feel it’s great. The other guys that are part of that group, I’ve already had a lot of success and played some juniors with them as well. It was obviously cool reaching a challenger final. I would say I didn’t expect it to come this fast in some ways but during the summer when I did play a couple of challengers, I felt like my level was there.
I lost a couple of tight matches and I did have one win in the main draw this summer. So I felt like if I just got through a couple of tough matches and got some confidence I could make a deep run in one of these tournaments. So in that way, it wasn’t too surprising but obviously I had to play well and it was a great couple of weeks here.
Talk about your background, how you got to be at the level you are today?
I moved in 2013 when I was eight years old from Southern California to Indiana. I started playing tennis when I was around four and I’d already started playing some Tennis in Southern California like Little Mo and some other like smaller junior tournaments when I was just under eight.
So I started training there but I started playing many more tournaments when I moved to Indiana. I was just playing tennis and soccer and then when I moved to Indiana, just slowly focused on tennis.
Talk about your training base and how you moved levels up.
I worked with a different coach for a couple months at the start but since 2014, so about nine years now, I’ve been working with Brian Smith. There’s been a lot of great players that have come out of there. Rajeev Ram has the same coach and then a couple other guys that have had a lot of D1 success as well. Like Samir played at Sanford, Ronnie Schneider played at UNC and a couple other guys.
So there’s always been a lot of great players to train with there and it was good growing up.
How much of an inspiration has Rajeev Ram been for you thus far and what sort of relationship do you have with him today?
He’s been a great inspiration. I met him first when when I was eight and have hit with him on and off when I was younger. And then in recent years I’ve started hitting with him more and more, especially during COVID. He was in Indiana for a couple months, so I really got to know him better then. He’s been great.
A mentor kind of. Leading me and telling me how different things on tour are and what to expect. Just giving me advice on my tennis game and what I can improve on. So he’s been great and in that sense, a great friend to have and someone that’s obviously had a lot of experience and a lot of success on tour.
It sounds like you were in regular school up until COVID.Was there ever a thought about going homeschool or online schooling earlier or moving out of Indiana to progress your tennis career?
There was never a thought to move out of Indiana when I was in juniors. I was planning on doing online school in my junior year of high school but then COVID came. So anyway, school moved online. So I was able to just stay with my public high school. And then my senior year, they allowed me to travel a lot. My second semester, I was in school like five, six weeks that semester but I was playing a lot of ITF junior events.
I never really thought about moving out of Indiana. My coach was there. I would go down to the UST in Orlando a couple of weeks during the year to train and get some better practice partners but already at tournaments, I was getting a lot of that good practice. I thought it was good to be home and work with my coach and spend some time with my family.
So I never thought too much about that..
When you were thinking about transitioning from juniors to college, what were you looking for in a college? What were some of your decision criteria that you were evaluating?
I was looking for a group of guys that were equally motivated to continue improving tennis and hopefully make that step to pro tennis. I was also looking for a school that had good academics. I’ve always had focus on that growing up. So I kind of wanted the right balance and then also coaches that would do anything for me to continue to move to the next level and just have the same drive and motivation every day to keep working.
I did look at some schools in the Midwest but I always kind of wanted to go to better weather region as well. So that was a little bit of a deciding factor for me.
So you found that in Stanford. What has that transition from juniors to college been like?
The transition has been pretty good. It was a little bit of a challenge with academics at the beginning. I had some success in some of the college events. I was missing a lot of school and I was taking a little bit of a tough class load. So it was a little bit of a challenge at the very beginning but I’d always managed school and tennis anyway, so I didn’t feel like it was a significant jump in difficulty in either.
As for the coaching staff, I really liked them a lot. They all bring different value to the table. Last year, we had three coaches. Paul Goldstein, Brandon Coupe and Horacio Matta. They all helped me a lot to mature on and off the court. It’s been great. All of my teammates have given me a lot of support.
Stanford is such a fabulous academic institution. How does your Stanford experience compare to maybe your brothers or other friends that you know, who are at other schools?
I would say a lot of it depends on what your major is really because there are some majors that you can take here that maybe are just as difficult as majors in other schools but if you are taking some of the more difficult majors, it requires more time management, maybe a couple more hours in the day to go to class, go to office hours to understand the material better.
So I’d say maybe it’s a little bit more time commitment but I think it all just depends on what you’re studying. So it’s maybe a little bit more work than what I’ve heard from some of my friends at other schools, but it depends on what you’re studying.
Have you decided what you’re going to major in?
Most likely I’m going to do Data Science but we decide at the end of sophomore year.
Stanford has one of the winningest programs on the men’s and women’s side but it’s been a while since Stanford has won a team title. What do you think? Are some of the factors that have led to that and what do you all as a team focus on to continue to bring Stanford back to where it’s been in the past?
I can’t really speak for years before last year, but I think there’ve been a variety of factors maybe that have led us to maybe not achieve what we could have achieved with the talent we’ve had on our team last year.
We obviously had quite a few injuries on our team that prevented us from making a deeper run. This year, we’re just trying to work on doing the smaller things better every day so that we can give ourselves the best chance to be healthy for the whole spring and really make the push for NCAAs because I feel like we have a really good team this year to have a chance to go deep. Just trying to have that little extra motivation and do the 1 percent every day – that can make a big difference. Additionally all the top teams are really good that it really just comes down to a few points here and there and who has more energy or who shows up better on a certain day. So I feel like hopefully we’ll get a chance this year to do that..
You mentioned being healthy. You mentioned injuries. Its something that’s plagued not only your junior career but also followed you last season in your freshman year.
At the moment, I’m healthy. I’m trying to do everything every day to keep all my body parts healthy. I’ve had 3 separate knee surgeries on my right knee and then one left wrist surgery, which kept me out of the beginning of the dual season last year.
I’m just trying to make sure my body and everything is balanced and give myself the best chance to continue putting the hours on and off the court so that I can hopefully be a pro in the future. But that requires a lot of work. At the moment I’m healthy and feeling pretty good.
As a freshman, you had 17-1 win/loss record. You ended the fall at number two in the country. Were you surprised at how quickly you had such phenomenal success in college?
I would say I was pretty surprised going into Tulsa. I was playing pretty well, I’d just come off U. S. Open doubles title and some good junior success but obviously College Tennis is completely different, no ad scoring, a lot of players that are experienced in that and so on. I had a couple tough matches in the qualies of Tulsa but once I got through there, I felt, I was feeling pretty good about my game. The rest of the fall, I was just kind of playing free and nothing really loose.
You have been able to double dip in these challengers because you’ve had entry via the junior accelerator program. And also the college accelerator program, how helpful have those programs been for you to earn direct entry into either qualifying or the main draws of these challengers?
The program has been great. Otherwise I would have had to get some wild cards from the USTA to get in. And I probably wouldn’t have had as many opportunities as I’ve had with these accelerator spots. I feel like the levels there in both juniors and college, if you do finish top 10, top 20.
It is maybe the experience isn’t there, but I think a lot of these guys can beat challenger level guys on, on a given day. Maybe not as consistently as the challenger guys do play at that level, but definitely can do on a given day. Just getting more experience at this level and playing more and more of these events has helped a lot.
You mentioned not playing the fall in college this season.What factored into that decision?
I have some of these accelerator spots left. I think one main draw and two qualities. So I want to use those. I played the fall last year and got a lot of matches and I thought this year maybe it would be better to just play some pro events and get some more experience there and then play the college events in the spring.
Last year on our team, Arthur Fery did that as well. And he still finished, he obviously played super well in the spring and won a lot of matches, but he was still able to finish top 10. So I feel like if I’m able to play at that level, then I’ll still have a pretty good chance of doing that in the spring.
So that’s kind of what went into my decision.
Let’s talk a little bit about the challenger success specifically. Two challengers here in California: one QF and one Final. Both the times you lost to the eventual champion Zachory Svajda. What was your attitude going into that second match against Svajda?
The first one, it was my first Challenger quarterfinal, and I think I was maybe a little bit nervous going in. I felt like I didn’t play my best. He was obviously super solid, and I think I just overplayed a little bit in some moments when I had some breakpoints, game points that I didn’t convert. Overall the level maybe wasn’t as good as I could have played.
For the second one, I tried to be a little bit more patient. He likes a lot of pace and can really counterpunch. I think that’s one of his biggest strengths. So I was kind of just trying to be patient and be aggressive when I had the right ball. I started out the match super well, I was up a break and then he got it back and then at four all, I had a couple of more chances to break and I didn’t get those. In the second set, he just was just a little bit too solid.
In those runs, you really great wins, including two top 200 wins. Probably the most notable win was over a number 110 Alex Michelsen. What have you learned about your game and how it stacks up to these challenger level players and what specifically do you think are your strengths in these matches?
I feel like from the baseline, I’m able to hang with these guys and mix up the pace of the balls but also ball strike with them. I have a lot of tools being able to come in, being able to use the drop shot, the slice, mix up the pace. So I feel that works at any level. I was able to use that pretty well in these two tournaments.
Just mentally, I’m able to stay pretty calm and solid throughout the match, which I think is also one of the biggest strengths for me. My return of serve is one of my strengths. I feel like I read people’s serves pretty well and I’m able to attack second serves as well.
So I think those are my biggest strengths and from what I’ve seen in these tournaments.
Are there areas of your game that you’ve come back and hit the practice court and said, wow, I really need to improve
My serve, I think just getting more accuracy and getting the percentage up on the serve is a big area of focus for me. Also continuing to improve my movement and just making sure I stay healthy.
Those are the main things that I can get better at. And obviously just continuing to improve my strengths as well.
Have these results changed your going pro timeline at all?
So I’ll consider it at some point, but I’m definitely going to play this spring for Stanford and then see how the next summer goes and beyond and make a decision then. I think these results have shown that I can play at this level. So I want to do that in the future and think about it more next summer.
What does your fall schedule look like?
I’m going to try to play two more challengers. The ATP Challengers in Knoxville (Tenesse) and Champaign (Illinois)