He reached for a forehand. Instead of putting the ball away for an easy winner, he committed an unforced error. Shaking his head, the 22-year-old muttered something as he kept focus during the practice session on Wednesday.
Then he ran again, past the tramlines to get to the next ball, a crosscourt forehand that many would have found difficult to return and perhaps given up. It's the determination and hunger to get to every ball that drives the lanky youngster.
Put under the spotlight these past few days, Vijayant Malik has refused to buckle under pressure. “Why should I put the extra pressure on myself?” he asked.
“There is always a winner and loser. It’s a game. But if I keep thinking too much about it, it would affect me when I step on the court to represent my country.”
Selected to play the Davis Cup after the country's top 11 players refused to participate, the world No. 537 will be making his debut on Friday against South Korea.
He may be only 22 years old but it's been a long journey for the boy from Panipat district of Haryana. Having taken up the sport as a five-year-old at his father's insistence, he began playing in local tournaments a year or two later. “I don't know what made my father make me take up tennis. But he persisted, and after I began winning, I realised I had started liking the game,” Malik recalled.
Selected under the Chandigarh Lawn Tennis Association's scheme for rural children when he was 11 is what proved to be the turning point.
“My father works in the government while my mother is a teacher. From living with parents, I went to staying alone in the CLTA academy. It was tough but had CLTA not helped me financially in my junior days, there's no way I could have reached this level today,” the former top junior said.
Shifting base to Delhi three years ago to train with Aditya Sachdeva, Malik is without a sponsor. “Pro tennis is not easy. I never realised how expensive it is. You have to travel alone to earn points and only break even when you start winning a few rounds. It's tough to manage the finances,” the BA graduate from DAV College said.
So, why not go down the road many do — into the American education system?
“My parents wanted me to turn pro actually. Had I gone to America, I don't know where I would stand now. Many go there to play but instead start working in big multinationals. It's always been tennis first for me,” he says thoughtfully. In this day and age of sponsorship
woes, state government backing would prove extremely beneficial for the player as it would allow him to concentrate fully on the game.
After making the finals of a few ITF Futures, Malik ended his wait by lifting his maiden trophy in Vietnam last year. So, what will be the next step? “To break into the top 300 this year, I have to get my ranking higher to get main draws in Challengers,” was the confident reply.