This is the fourth 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. Here’s the first, second, and third part.
Benjamin Ebrahimzadeh, an Iranian-German tennis player-turned-coach, has worked with some top players in his career. The list includes former world No 1 Angelique Kerber, Victoria Azarenka as well as Australian Open semi-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas. Ebrahimzadeh has also been a major part of the coaching staff of prestigious tennis academies such as Mouratoglou Tennis Academy and Alexander Waske Tennis University.
Ebrahimzadeh has also worked with India’s Karman Kaur Thandi after Mahesh Bhupathi approached him in 2016. In this interaction, he discusses his experience of working with the Indian at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy, his take on her game, and his thoughts on her future on tour.
When did you first meet Thandi?
My first contact with Karman was through her manager/mentor Mahesh Bhupathi, who contacted me in 2016. Then Karman came south of France and had a trial week with us. I gave my feedback to Mahesh and we decided that she will stay with us for a longer period of time.
What were your first impressions of her game?
She has a very aggressive game. Her serve and forehand are very dominant, her backhand was not that stable at that moment. But I think when you have such great weapons as Karman’s, you should focus on keeping on improving them, which will help you to take your game to the next level.
In her initial months at the academy, what were the specific aspects of her game that you focused on?
I cannot say that there was a specific aspect that was focused on. She had to get used to the system, to the training structure which included warm-up with the fitness coach. The first tennis session in the morning, and then the second tennis session in the afternoon, and a longer fitness session in the evening. So she had to get used to the process to bring up the intensity to the next level.
Tennis is developing so much and it has changed a lot in the past couple of years. If you compare Rafael Nadal in 2011 to 2019, you will see a totally different player. In tennis, you constantly have to improve your tactics, techniques, and fitness. So there is not only one part which is worked on.
A lot of Indian tennis experts say that Thandi has a Top 50 game when everything is stitched together. What is your take on this?
I think she has to go step by step. When I see now she is top 200 for the first time, which means Grand Slam qualies [qualifiers] for the first time. Next step would be entering the main draw of the Grand Slams. I am not a big fan to put numbers out and say “Okay that player will definitely reach somewhere.” But she’s at a stage in her professional career where she is getting in the qualies of a Grand Slam and that is where the business is. So for me, the next step would be getting into the main draw of a Grand Slam.
Any other Indian players you have worked with other than Thandi? What do you think India lacks when it comes to tennis?
I have worked with Prajnesh [Gunneswaran], Jeevan [Nedunchezhiyan] and Bala [N Sriram Balaji]. Bala was the first Indian player I met back when I worked in Germany. When I first met Bala, I experienced that the intensity is not up to the mark. All the Indians have very nice hands, a very good feel for the game. But the intensity for me, is not at the highest possible level.
This could be because of several reasons, maybe, because of the weather conditions they trained in as kids. They start very early to portion their energy level so they don’t go all out. So, they are always saving energy and to reach on the top of the game you cannot play this way.
Is it difficult to go about coaching players with very different styles of play?
I think this is what makes it interesting as a coach, to analyse the game of the player the right way and then maximise the potential. I think a top coach is able to work with any kind of a player. It depends on how good you can analyse and how easy you can develop the vision for yourself. You need a lot of experience and to work on players from every level of the game.