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Thursday, Aug 22, 2019

Life comes full circle for Wimbledon-bound Vishnu Vardhan, Sriram Balaji

The pair of Vishnu Vardhan and Sriram Balaji got a shot in the arm after making the cut for their maiden Grand Slam in Wimbledon.

tennis Updated: Jun 29, 2018 12:02 IST
Avishek Roy
Avishek Roy
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Vishnu Vardhan and Sriram Balaji (not in pic) qualified for the men’s doubles draw of the Wimbledon 2018.
Vishnu Vardhan and Sriram Balaji (not in pic) qualified for the men’s doubles draw of the Wimbledon 2018.(HT PHOTO)

There is a doggedness that defines Vishnu Vardhan and Sriram Balaji. For years, they have been the two most recognisable faces in the domestic tennis circuit, grinding their way in the ITF and Challenger levels.

Once promising talents, they may not have been able to get the big break in singles but never stopped dreaming as they bounced back from injury setbacks and fund crunch to keep the flame burning.

On Wednesday, providence smiled on the two friends when they made it to their maiden Grand Slam as a pair. Now Wimbledon beckons.

Vishnu and Balaji upset top-seeded pair of Denys Molchanov of Ukraine and Igor Zelenay of Slovakia 6-3, 6-4 in the final qualifying round “It is a dream come true for us to play in Wimbledon. People may say whatever they want but playing in a Grand Slam, be it singles or doubles is in itself huge,” Vishnu says.

READ | Eugenie Bouchard survives qualifying to grab Wimbledon spot

Known for his booming serves, 30-year-old Vishnu was all emotional after qualifying as his mind went back to 2012 when he represented India at the Olympics in doubles alongside Leander Paes and gave a good account of himself.

He pushed himself at the higher level to improve his singles rankings and to make the cut in Grand Slams. But tendonitis on the right knee stopped him on his track.

“Injury always comes at a wrong time. In 2012 I was going through the best phase of my career at this very place. People took note of me when I played alongside Leander. I was ranked No. 2 in the country. I was determined to break into the top rung but then injury struck. I was out of competition for more than a year.”

“I was back in action in 2014 and then it was a struggle to regain my form and fitness. There were many moments when I thought why I should continue but my family and my coach C.V. Nagraj have so much belief in me.

READ | Holder Karolina Pliskova beaten by Aryna Sabalenka at Eastbourne

“They kept encouraging that I still have not reached my potential. My wife who has been a tennis player herself has been a pillar of strength.”

Vishnu hung in. Last year he won three ITF titles and was also recalled in the Davis Cup squad. “It was somewhere around this time last year that I decided to take a plunge into doubles. My style of play always suited doubles.”

Balaji, known for his serve and volley style, was a perfect foil for grass. “We won a couple of Challengers. Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam where there is qualification in doubles, so just decided to give it a try. Bala has been more a friend than a partner. We complement each other on the court and our friendship will be always there.”

The duo won six ATP Challenger events in a year’s time, including the $50,000 Chennai Challenger and got their ranking up. Vishnu is ranked 108 and Balaji 110 in doubles charts.

READ | Serena Williams returns to Wimbledon seeking eighth title

Travelling around the world and playing the full circuit comes at a cost. With not much support, Indian players have to depend on their own money.

Vishnu even tried out the idea of crowd funding on social media. It did not work out but soon a Hyderabad-based company came for their support. “We have fought many challenges but we are still passionate about the game.”

First Published: Jun 29, 2018 11:17 IST

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