When the junior event starts at the French Open this week, Indian eyes will be focused on lanky 17-year-old Karman Kaur Thandi. She made headlines in last year’s junior US Open when she reached the pre-quarters, following it up with a similar showing in the Australian Open.
Sumit Nagal, who has just graduated to the seniors, became the sixth Indian junior to triumph at junior Wimbledon last year. The common link between the two --- they are both backed by Mahesh Bhupathi.
While the 12-time Grand Slam champion has helped Nagal since he was 11, he stepped in to help Karman last December. “She had gone to Bobby (Mahal) in Canada and he was impressed with her. He told me about her and I saw her during the Australian Open. Karman definitely has the big shots and the potential,” said Bhupathi on Saturday.
He spoke to Patrick Mouratoglou and put Karman in his academy in Nice full time about a month ago. “Just after her exams,” Bhupathi adds.
For the uninitiated, Mouratoglou is world No 1 Serena Williams’ coach. “Karman is training where the top stars go. Serena, Novak (Djokovic) practice there. There’s no compromise there when it comes to fitness and training. Right from what they eat, how to train and play, experts handle everything. Sumit (who has trained at the Schuttler Waske academy near Frankfurt) had been going to a sports psychologist a while ago,” Bhupathi says.
It’s important to provide these talented youngsters with a chance to fulfil their potential. “Three years down the line no one can say they didn’t have an opportunity,” the 41-year-old adds.
While Karman has performed well in a few women’s events in Italy (she made the quarters and semis recently), Nagal has clinched a Futures doubles title this year in Uzbekistan and is playing Challengers. Karman is ranked 645 in the WTA chart while Nagal is 388 on the ATP list. Karman, who is solely focusing on the seniors, will be playing junior events only in the Majors.
The International Premier Tennis League has a fund to support talent. “They are supported through that and if they grow into top players, we (Globosport) will automatically manage them. We had done that with Sania Mizra too (back in 2003),” Bhupathi informs.
It’s not easy playing the circuit. Funds are a major issue for most on the Tour. “The budget is easily between $180,000-200,000 (approx Rs 1.21 crore-Rs 1.34 crore). We try to give them other support too, like JSW supports Nagal while Ola Cabs CEO Bhavish (Aggarwal) supports Karman. Whatever the shortfall, we try to cover.”
Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber’s former coach, Benjamin Ebrahimzadeh, is working with Karman at the academy at the moment. “I give my inputs but leave it to the experts. I don’t argue with them because they obviously know better,” says Bhupathi.