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Tata Open Maharashtra: Buoyed by home support, local hero Arjun Kadhe poised to rise

The preparation has been great so far. I have got a good pre-season in, something that I did not have last year, so I have looked forward to play this event, he says

pune Updated: Dec 31, 2018 17:17 IST
Pranav Shahaney
Pranav Shahaney
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,Tata Open Maharashtra,Arjun Kadhe
Tennis player Arjun Kadhe (L) with coach Kedar Shah (R) (Pranav story) in Pune, on Friday.(Ravindra Joshi/HT PHOTO)

Swashbuckling aces, exquisite cross-court forehand winners and star-studded singles and doubles lineup – the Tata Open Maharashtra has promised to have all these facets in abundance.

If last year proved to be an audition of how good the tennis facility at the Shiv Chhatrapati sports complex is to host a tennis event, this time around fans know exactly what they’re looking forward to when the main draw commences on December 31 (Monday).

To add a little incentive for the fans in the city, local hero and world number 352 Arjun Kadhe was handed a wild card straight into the main draw of the tournament along with his more experienced compatriots, Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Ramkumar Ramanathan.

While Gunneswaran and Ramanathan have been around the block for a while, the big-serving 24-year-old from Pune is primed to give the two a run for their money. Having recently beaten the latter in the ATP Challenger event that took place at the very same facility where the tournament is taking place, Kadhe is fancying his chances to defy the odds once again and start the new year on a fantastic note.

During an exclusive access to his training session on Friday, Kadhe talked about all things tennis and how pumped up he was looking ahead of the tournament. The joy on his face was for everyone to see due to him winning a wild card straight into the main draw without having to go through the dreaded qualifiers and he knows that the onus is on him to put up a good show at the Balewadi stadium and take his career to the next level.

“The preparation has been great so far. I’ve got a good pre-season in, something that I did not have last year, so I have looked forward to play this event. I’m very excited to learn and I hope it’s going to be fun. Realistically, I’m not going into the tournament with any expectations. I’m just here to make the most of the opportunity given to me,” said Kadhe.

Playing in front of one’s local fans is always every aspiring sportspersons dream, but it can often lead to the downfall of the said athlete.

There have been a number of occasions where players have gone into big matches or tournaments as the local heroes, but have failed to live up to their favourites tag, but Kadhe believes that he can only be buoyed by the love and adulation he receives from the fans in attendance whenever he’s played at Balewadi.

“To play in front of your fans is a very good thing according to me because hardly anyone can compare to the feeling of playing at home, so I think I use it to my advantage. It’s a good feeling when you have the support of the local people when you go out and play and hopefully, I can use it in my favour.”

Having played a number of matches in the stadium, Kadhe has grown a certain fondness towards the courts and heaped praises on the world-class facilities in the city. He also mentioned how fans here are now learning more about the game and are expected to come in large numbers to cheer him and the other Indian players for the next few days.

“Balewadi is a world-class facility and the organisation is spectacular. I personally like it because it’s home and you can’t beat that. The atmosphere is also really good and tennis is loved by Pune. A lot of fans here want to watch some great tennis and I think that’s a massive plus for the sport in the city,” he said.

The 24-year-old may be focusing a lot more on his singles career, but has ensured throughout his formative years that he pays careful attention to the doubles side of things as well and is likely to receive a wild card for the event with his partner N Sriram Balaji.

This will be the first occasion that the duo will be competing as a team and it will be interesting to see whether it could prove to be the start of the next Leander Paes-Mahesh Bhupati combination going into 2019.

Playing in the ATP 250 events is something Kadhe has been looking forward to in the new year, knowing very well that his performances at the Challenger events have to merit his inclusion in the Masters’ events. Since he burst onto the scene four years ago, there has been a remarkable and tangible growth in the player’s performances and he only hopes to get better in the future.

For starters, explaining what aspect of his game he’s been concentrating on of late, the Pune lad stated, “My aim is to play in the 250 events and higher as soon as possible so recently I’ve got a good base of strength training, which helps me while playing, and overall I am concentrating on fitness and sharpening of my game.”

After winning close to 20 trophies in singles and doubles competitions in 2018, the future seems extremely bright for the Pune boy who once dared to dream and is now on the right path to achieving it. However, taking it one tournament at a time, he has his mind set on the Maharashtra Open and is looking to make a mark on the senior circuit as quickly as possible.

‘Arjun’s willingness to learn makes it fun to coach him’

Having gauged his talent even before he was a teenager, Arjun Kadhe’s coach Kedar Shah along with Hemant Bendrey, deserve a lot of credit for polishing a raw talent with potential to be one of the country’s sharpest tennis players of the current generation. Speaking to Pranav Shahaney, Shah explained the journey in shaping Khade as the poster boy of tennis in the city and about the journey that lies ahead.

How has your experience been coaching Arjun Kadhe for what is now more than half his lifetime?

I’ve known Arjun since he was 10. He used to practice at Deccan Gymkhana and had trained under Hemant sir throughout his junior career, he is one of the top players in India. Arjun is an extremely dedicated and hardworking player and the best part about him is that he has the willingness to learn. So, it’s always fun to coach him.

Tennis coach Kedar Shah ( Ravindra Joshi/HT PHOTO )

Being a coach himself, what is the role his father (Jayant Kadhe) plays and as the player’s coach what kind of an equation do you share with him?

His father never pushed him to be a player. It’s all because of what Arjun wanted to do. Presently, he does come for his training sessions. He tries to maintain more of a father figure to Arjun. Otherwise, it comes with a lot of conflict of interest. Whatever he wants to talk regarding his coaching, he talks to us, rather than speaking directly to his son.

Indians tend to do extremely well in doubles events, but falls way short in singles competition. Why do you think that is the case and as a coach, what methods are you taking to bring about a change?

Yes, there is a lot of gap between Indian and European/American players. The major concern for us is our physical fitness. Maybe that’s to do with the genes we have as for example, a 15-year-old Indian is as good as a 12-year-old American in terms of their physique. There is no reason why that cannot be built, so we are now focusing a lot on the physical side of the game and working on endurance and strength building.

Arjun will be participating in both singles and doubles events at the Tata Open Maharashtra. How different are the two training routines and how do you, as a coach, manage to incorporate both, given his hectic schedule?

In the singles training, we focus a lot more on the movement pattern, the footwork as you have to cover the full court. There is a lot of sideways movement, chasing down the ball, retrieving the ball and a lot of stroking is what we primarily focus on. Doubles, on the other hand, we focus on serves and volleys. We also focus on the return of serves which need to go more diagonally, into the feet of the volleyer. For a player like Arjun, he’s young, only 24, so he can surely focus a lot more on the singles where the legs are still fresh, you’re not tired and you can still push yourself in terms of endurance.

First Published: Dec 31, 2018 17:12 IST