This is the second in a series of articles going behind the scenes of 21-year-old Karman Kaur Thandi’s journey. She is just the sixth Indian woman to break into the Top 200 in the WTA rankings. You can read the first part and second part.
“As a parent, I can keep telling the whole world that my kid is very good at tennis, and nobody would listen. But when a legend like Mahesh Bhupathi says the same, they will come out and support.”
These words from Karman Kaur Thandi’s father Chetanjit Singh Thandi are enough to highlight the impact Bhupathi has had on young Indian’s career.
The former doubles star has supported the 21-year-old for quite some time now, helping her family take care of her travel and training expenses. He has also overseen her transition to the professional ranks.
He spoke about her big game was a standout factor that and how he helped her get into the famed Mouratoglou Tennis Academy founded by Serena Williams’ long-time coach.
How and when did you first spot Thandi? What were your first impressions, what stood out in her game?
Well, with Karman, I have been backing her for three years now. I think she just had the potential to develop a big game. She is a tall girl, has a big serve, and obviously works really hard. The potential to have a big game is what was special. In modern-day tennis, you need to have a big game to make it to the top. That’s what stood out.
You’d requested Patrick Mouratoglou to go watch one of Thandi’s junior matches at the Australian Open. You had decided to send her to Mouratoglou Tennis Academy right after. What drove that choice?
I’ve been on the tour for 25 years, so I know what’s good and what’s not. Novak Djokovic and Serena train at the Mouratoglou’s, so obviously they have got to be the best in the world. So that was when I requested Patrick [Mouratoglou] to go and have a look at her game, and he was impressed as well. That is how her relationship at Mouratoglou’s started.
How do you think she has evolved after her stint there?
Well, she is moving in the right direction every year. On tour, she has been going up the rankings. Unfortunately, she’s injured now. But that’s part and parcel of professional sport. So I’m sure once she recovers, she’ll be ready to go again.
Thandi’s strengths are her forehand and serve, but her backhand has also improved in the last few years. What do you think are aspects in her game that need to improve in order for her to take the next step in her career?
Every single part of her game needs to improve. I don’t think any part of her game is world class at the moment. Sure, her strengths are her forehand and her serve, but there are a lot of girls out there with a better forehand and a better serve. You need to work hard on your weaknesses, but you need to work harder on your strengths – I am a big believer of this. She still needs to constantly develop her game.
Thandi has been under the spotlight since a young age and people have huge expectations from her. How do you think she has coped with it so far? Do you think it burdens the athlete, especially when they are very young?
I think pressure and expectations are part and parcel of the process to try and become a champion. From an athlete’s perspective, the biggest expectation is from within themselves. I know Karman is a very ambitious girl and she focuses on what her goals her are, rather than being bogged down by expectations from outside. So it’s good to have that kind of attitude because it forces you to push harder when things are not going your way.
How tough is it to convince corporates to come onboard and support players?
The support stems from the fact that you like the sport. And when you like the sport, a lot of them are open to extending support to talent. Moreover, the fact that they know that I am going to be watching over all aspects of their development gives them extra assurance and comfort.
Lastly, after Sumit Nagal and Karman, any upcoming juniors you are excited about?
Yeah, there are a couple of kids I have heard about, but haven’t watched them play yet. There’s this big kid from Tamil Nadu [Dhakshineswar Suresh] who’s apparently six-foot-something. There’s another kid from Bangalore [Adil Kalyanpur] who’s been training at Rafael Nadal’s academy in Spain. So I think they’ll be the ones to watch out for.