Mastering endurance is senior break point for India’s junior tennis champion from Pune

Country’s top junior tennis maestro Siddhant Banthia on the way forward to senior circuit

pune Updated: Jul 05, 2018 15:10 IST
Pranav Shahaney
Pranav Shahaney
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,Tennis,Wimbleton
Siddhant Banthia practices at Solaris club on Wednesday. The 17-year-old from Kalyaninagar has been playing the sport for over a decade and is the country’s highest ranked junior singles player.(Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)

While the eyes of all tennis enthusiasts are glued to the lush green pastures in London, watching the Wimbledon, Pune’s very own tennis prodigy, Siddhant Banthia, is doing himself and the city proud with stellar performances on the domestic and international circuit. The 17-year-old from Kalyaninagar is the country’s highest ranked junior singles player and now looks to make the transition to senior circuit, where he seeks to be the world’s best.

Training at Solaris Club in Kothrud, Banthia ensures that he continues to play the sport even when he is not on tour. He shows up for training twice every day for one-and-a-half hour sessions each, after which he hits the gym for the same amount of time to ensure that he builds himself up for the professional circuit.

Sharing the experiences of what drew him to the sport, the former Bishopite said, “I started with cricket, but I did not want to get into a team sport. I often watched my dad play tennis in our housing society and one day, made up my mind to take up the sport. After training at Boat Club, I won my first competition I participated in and received fame at a very young age. This motivated me to pursue the sport as a career. At 12, I decided that I would do whatever it takes to make a career in the game of tennis.”

(From left) Tennis coach Aditya Madkekar, Siddhant Banthia and fitness coach Kaifi Afzal during a training session. (Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)

Playing the sport for nearly a decade, Banthia has not only grown to love it, but he has also developed a clear understanding about the nuances of the game. He has witnessed a number of players elder to him make certain mistakes and has been cautious to not commit the same errors that can lead to his downfall.

When quizzed about anything different that he has done to stand out from the rest of the upcoming players in the country, Banthia humbly said, “I have been extremely dedicated since day one. When I step onto the court, that’s the only thing I’ve got on my mind. I also like to set very high goals for myself and that motivates me when things aren’t going well. Also, it’s not just about working hard as I want to keep winning. That’s my mindset going into every game and it’s something that gives me the edge over others.”

Currently ranked 92nd in the world on the international tennis federation (ITF) circuit, Banthia was at a career high at the start of the year as he went into the Australian Open ranked 36th. However, due to his hectic schedule, coupled with his board examinations and a wrist injury a few weeks before the event in Melbourne, he couldn’t hold on to his ranking. However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the dynamic teenager as he aims on improving himself for the challengers and futures events once he turns pro.

Speaking about what his plans are once he gets into the big leagues of international tennis, he said, “I cannot immediately play grand slams as we have to start from scratch on the senior tour. Thus, to gain points, I will participate in the challengers and futures events. This will not only give me the experience, but will also help me shoot up the rankings as I aim to make it into the association of tennis professionals (ATP) rankings. Also, if events like the ATP 250 Maharashtra open take place in the city, I hope to be invited to play in those events.”

Moving to the seniors from the juniors is a completely different ball game and a huge step taken by budding tennis superstars. Often, this hurdle proves to be one too high to overcome and leads to a number of dreams being crushed. However, Banthia knows that he can take nothing for granted and has made tremendous sacrifices in order to work on his physical well-being as he prepares to elevate his career in 2019.

“Pulling out of this year’s Wimbledon was a big decision for me, but it was a hectic European tour and I needed a while to recuperate and work on my body and other aspects of my game. I have played in all four slams at a junior level, so I have lived my dream, and now, I hope to do the same on the senior circuit as well,” he said.

Till date, Siddhant Banthia has enjoyed a trophy-laden career. He has won all there is to win on the national stage, winning a number of nationals. Internationally, he’s been triumphant in the singles and doubles events on the road to Wimbledon in 2014 and a number of other ITF junior masters crowns across the globe. In June this year, he won the doubles event at the Poland open and now has his sights on achieving miracles in the final major of the year at Flushing Meadows, New York, in August.

Coaches speak

Aditya Madkekar, tennis coach

“He found it difficult at the grand slams because he was competing against players who are based in Europe or the US where the surfaces are readily available, after participating in India and Asia where the surfaces are nothing compared to the ones overseas.”

“He understands that he needs to work on his development and long-term progress, for which he needs to develop a strong base. So, the junior circuit has been very good for him to realise that he needs to work on every aspect of his game.”

“We are working on his forehand, his strength and his endurances. In juniors, the average shots per point by a player is five to six while in the seniors, it is almost twice the amount. So we’re making him play 20-25 shots per point to get him ready for it.”

“He is very consistent from the baseline. He has a good serve, which is very deceptive. Many said he does not serve the hardest, but the speed difference between the first and second serve is minimal. Mentally, he is very strong and is always open to feedback and criticism. He’s also very tactically adaptive, which is rare in today’s day and age”

Kaifi Afzal, fitness trainer

“I’ve been working with him for a year. He is very brainy and tactically correct, but physically, he is lacking and he understands that and is working towards it. He is undoubtedly a supremely talented player, but when you compare him with a European player, he still has a long way to go. Until now, he has relied on his tennis and has only worked on it. Now, he realises the importance of being stronger physically and that is important.”

“I am currently working on his strength and endurance only as the other things seem pretty good. He gives it all in the first set so halfway in the second, you can see his intensity dropping, so that needs working on. The drawback with his diet is that he’s a vegetarian, so we’re finding ways to ensure he’s eating the right things that help him bulk up.”

“Here, we do nine sessions of fitness that deal with every aspect of a player’s body-building and we do it in such a way to ensure that we don’t over exert the player. We maintain the balance, we don’t give him a lot of weight to lift, but in the off season, we do give him weights because he needs to build some muscle to hit harder strokes.”

First Published: Jul 05, 2018 15:00 IST