Staying warm in the capital of cold
Exactly two weeks ago, Sumit Nagal was dripping in sweat at the Balewadi Stadium, training shirtless in the afternoon heat of Pune before his opening match at the KPIT-MSLTA Challenger. Since the start of this week, the 22-year-old has remained mostly tucked inside several layers of jackets and body warmers.
The Indian Davis Cup team is gearing up to play its Asia/Oceania Group I tie against Pakistan from Friday in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, the neutral venue.
Pakistan was to have hosted the tie in Islamabad but the International Tennis Federation decided on the neutral venue after India raised security concerns.
However, Nur-Sultan is being true to its reputation as the second coldest capital city in the world. The current temperature in Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana) oscillates between minus 5 and minus 20 degrees Celsius. Frozen lakes and knee-deep snow have greeted the Indian players, who are adjusting to the drastic dip in temperature for the two-day tie at the indoor courts of the National Tennis Centre.
The man working to prevent the harsh weather from impacting the players’ game is physiotherapist Yash Pandey, who has come up with drills that are not usually followed by tennis players to ensure the freezing conditions do not lead to injuries.
“Even for me, these are extreme conditions,” said Pandey, who has been working with the Davis Cup team and some of the players on the professional tour since 2012. “In most tournaments on the Tour, the boys play during the warmest part of the year. Here, even though it shows minus 10 (degrees), it feels like minus 20 because of the wind. It’s pretty tough for players to get into the rhythm of playing tennis.”
One major change introduced in the training schedule is to have longer warm-ups before the players hit the practice courts. While on the Tour, a player spends 20 minutes on average warming up, it is double that time in Nur-Sultan.
“I have been making them warm up for 40-45 minutes here because I have to make sure the players are sweating before they start their hitting sessions. If their bodies are even slightly cold, chances of injuries increase drastically, especially since this is end of the season for them,” he said.
The warm-up techniques have been altered from what the team comprising Sumit Nagal, Ramkumar Ramanathan, Leander Paes, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan and Saketh Myneni must be accustomed to. Pandey has incorporated football-style drills such as sprinting and dynamic stretching to the sessions.
“Generally, tennis players only do a little bit of jogging, but here I’ve kept separate sprinting drills for them. I’ve also added six-eight variations for gluteus activation (activation of hip muscles) because the focus is on court movement.
“It obviously differs from player to player, but on the whole we are putting in a lot more time and intensity in the sessions because of the conditions.”
The other challenge is while outside the conditions are so cold, the hotel and indoor courts are properly insulated. “So, we go from hot to cold and to hot again while travelling from the hotel to the court. That can create problems too.”
The players have thus been largely confined to their hotel rooms. And on the rare occasions Nagal, Nedunchezhiyan, Myneni and Pandey himself have dared to step out, it is only to make a couple of off-beat videos for their Instagram followers.
“We came out of the hotel, shot the video and immediately ran back inside. That’s the most adventurous we can be in this weather,” Pandey said with a chuckle.