Hemant Bendrey is one of the more prominent tennis coaches in India right now, having mentored players like Ankita Raina, Rutuja Bhosale, Arjun Kadhe, Natasha Palha, among others. He runs the Hemant Bendrey Tennis Academy in Pune.
He shared his experience of working with India’s top-ranked women’s singles player Raina, about when he realised her potential, his own coaching journey and more.
You have been coaching Raina from a young age. How much has she evolved as a player?
When she was 12-13, I knew that she was going to be a national champion. To be honest, I did not predict that she would be an international champion as well. But the discipline was always there, which was the first thing I noticed. She has always played every point with a do-or-die attitude.
There are so many players out there who were more talented than her but her hard-work stood out. Talent, strokes, mentality – all these can make you a successful junior but to be able to make it at the men’s/ women’s level, you need to be able to fight, day in, day out. In fact, even Rutuja along with Ankita, has the same quality.
Her serve is an area of concern but makes up for it with her movement and her willpower. She is probably one the most mentally tough players out there. What do you think she needs more to break to the Top 100 and beyond?
We always knew that her serve speed would never be higher than 155-160 kmph. But what we are trying to do is increase accuracy and provide more direction to her serve so that the point starts with some advantage to her, in terms of court positioning. In women’s tennis, the game is more about return of serve, unlike in the men’s where it is serve dominated. Even if you don’t have a great serve, you can manage. When she beat Samantha Stosur, strength in her returns helped her. Apart for a handful of players in the women’s circuit, all of them don’t have big serve. If you have it, it’s an advantage but if not, you can still make it.
Raina has often said that having her coach travel with her made all the difference in the world. You travelled with her to Wimbledon and French Open qualifying in 2019. How do you’ll work out a schedule?
I try whenever possible. It’s all about time management as I have my academy to look after. But when I do go, I make it a point to go before the week of a Grand Slam tournament and it has helped.
How is your association with Coach Narendranath and in what capacity is he involved with Raina?
I started my coaching career working with him and he has been a great influence in my coaching career. Whenever possible he travels with Ankita and that also has helped her a lot.
How did your journey as a coach begin?
I started coaching when I was 21. When I was practising, there was this boy (U-12) who used to come and watch me play. Then I happened to start playing with him and he started doing well in tournaments. So it was just a coincidence wherein I happened to be on court with this kid. Coaching was never my idea and was completely unplanned. But then when I was on court, I knew this is what I like and want to pursue.
You have the experience of being a player, coach and also key stakeholder as an administrator in India. Where do you think the slide down has happened for Indian Tennis vis-a-vis our Asian/European and world counterparts?
Every now and then, we have players who have come up purely on their own merit. All tennis issues in our country are finance related. We need a structure of international tournaments and I’m sure we will have many more Top 100 players. Why do you think European players have so many top 100 players? It’s just because they have many tournaments every week in Europe itself. In India if we have 15-20 Challenger level tournaments for men’s and women’s, the whole scene of Indian tennis will change.
Without international tournament structure at home, the pressure of expenses becomes huge on players and that has an effect on their performance as well. So we need sponsorships to conduct international tournaments in India.
You used to be a part of the ITF Coaches commission. There are continuous advancements in coaching methodologies across the globe. What are the efforts in place to ensure our Coaches are up-to-date here?
The All India Tennis Association and Indian Tennis Federation try to educate coaches with updated methodologies, it depends on the coaches to apply on court all that they have learnt. If you want to improve as a coach, you not only have to attend workshops, seminars and courses but also have to travel for tournaments. The ITF/AITA have coaches education program in place since 1999 and has given direction to Indian coaches. Nowadays, I see coaches not willing to travel for workshops and tournaments. My advice for coaches would be to invest in themselves for their improvement.
What advice do you have for parents of junior players?
First of all, parents should make sure that the kids are enjoying the challenges they face not only in training but in tournaments as well. Most of the times I see that parents go overboard and put pressure on their kids to perform. Around 12th standard, they can decide on how to approach the future. There is always an option to send the kid to US for College Tennis, where his/her academics will be taken care of as well. So the options are plenty. There are tennis-based scholarships which can ease academics costs. One huge mistake many parents make is, they talk about finances in front of the kid. This can create a negative impact so parents should refrain from doing that
This article is an edited version of the interview that was first published on Indian Tennis Daily.