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Swede tidings for India

Bring in the numbers and the results will show, says new national tennis coach Ekersund. Deepti Patwardhan reports.

sports Updated: Apr 14, 2012 00:58 IST
Deepti Patwardhan

It's been just two weeks into his new job but Henrik Ekersund's diary is fast filling up. The Asian juniors Grade I tournament on at the DLTA complex has given the recently appointed Indian tennis coach an opportunity to interact with some of the top juniors in the country.

"I'm happy with what I've seen so far," says the Swede. "The players here are keen to learn, a lot more disciplined than the ones in Europe and seem to have ambition."

The 38-year-old comes from the rare breed of coaches who have not played the sport at the international level. But Ekersund comes to India with almost 20 years of specialisation in player development and coaching. Having worked extensively with the junior programme in Sweden and other parts of Europe, the toughest challenge for him is the sheer spread of his new assignment.

"It's a vast country," he says. "It is a little overwhelming. I have only been to the DLTA facility so far, and it is one of the better ones I have worked in. But in the coming days, I will travel around the country and see how the different associations function.

"As much as we want the top juniors to work at the best facility, the emphasis will be on having more centres across the country so that players don't have to spend too much time travelling. I will be working with other coaches as well."

Ease the pressure
Ekersund, who for the moment has been given a two-year contract, is a firm believer in using the numbers to build a stronger foundation.

"The focus should be on encouraging more youngsters to take up the sport and give them competitive experience. For now, they shouldn't think too much about taking it up as a career.

"One of the problems we had in Sweden, after our best period in tennis in the 1980s, is that we put too much pressure on the youngsters. We started comparing 17, 18-year-olds who were showing some promise to players like (Bjorn) Borg and (Mats) Wilander. The youngsters cracked under that pressure. "That is one of the reasons countries like Spain and France are doing well. They don't put pressure on their youngsters to win."

Ekersund is unwilling to use the all-too-familiar grouse that Indian players lack the physical attributes to sustain the pressures of the sport.

Surface advantage
"From what I've seen, I don't think there's too much of a difference between the kids here and in Europe. But, the infrastructure definitely makes a difference. In Europe, the juniors would generally play on outdoor surfaces in the summer and indoors in the winter. That helps them understand the variations in pace and bounce very early. Here it's mainly outdoor hard courts.

"Also, Europe has a big club culture. In a country like Sweden alone there are 500 clubs, who function on a non-profit basis. So youngsters have better access to the game. Most of them also play more than one sport till they are in their late teens. Here, if we see, there are juniors who are specialising in one sport very early; it is the job of the coaches to make sure they develop the players' athletic side."

"The biggest challenge facing almost all countries, Sweden and India included, is that we have to persist for the results. Because players will take longer to break into the big league in today's times."

So given that he will mainly be working with juniors, who will need another 4-5 years at least to be ready for the rigours of the senior tour, is his term of two years enough?

"I don't know about that. We will review the situation after a year and see how it goes," he says before signing off.