Prajnesh’s initial connect with the Alexander Waske Tennis-UniversityIn late 2011, Prajnesh came right after he finished college first year. He had brief college experience but unfortunately, he was always injured. Lot of people mentioned that he can never play Professional Tennis as his body was not suited for this. That’s when he came, no points, nothing at the back but he had an incredible forehand swing – his talent was obvious.
Initial impressions on what needed to be doneOne of the first things to focus on was to get his body ready for larger workload. He had tried few things in the past but they did not work out. So trust in the relationship was the most important piece. Our coach Bastian did a great job in developing that kind of trust. That was crucial. He came to us through Balaji, who is the first member of the Alexander Waske Tennis-University. We have taught him lot of tools that he is using now. It has been a period of series of constant changes. It is a long period of what started with nothing to now becoming a top-100 player.
Initial impressions vis-a-vis his gamePrajnesh was someone who had to realize that his huge strength which is his forehand would not be as effective if he hit it as hard and flat. He can really accelerate the ball and amazingly well at that. We focused on training him on how to vary the pace, adding the heavy top spin in combination with the harder flatter ball. One of the other important things was to change his routine on the serve because he would rush with his service points whereas he takes much more time now, relax, find his focus because serving without concentration is not possible. So this was important. Additionally, looking at his weaknesses which was for sure his backhand – we have stabilized that part now. His movement needed improvement and with his strength, he could not last long matches or multiple matches in a row. This is something we had to work on while adding the mental aspects as well. If you start playing and for many years, you play the Indian futures, you are not getting that belief deep inside of you that you belong there. The belief of being a top class player that is playing the Grand Slam main draws. From there to beating a top class player like Denis Shapovalov in Stuttgart on his favourite surface, which for Prajnesh was huge as he was not as comfortable on faster surfaces like the grass courts before.
As your academy has grown, how did you balance time with Balaji, Prajnesh and the other playersIt’s very simple. In the beginning, I took care of everything. Over the years as we have grown, one of the most important things is to hire the right coaches and empower them with authority, to give them opportunity to work with these kind of players and not be responsible for everything anymore. I have given up lot of departments in the academy. For example, I have complete responsibility for Michael Mmoh (ATP 107) right now and for the rest of the players, I am still there but I do not involve myself in the tournament schedule. I oversee the tweaks and the improvements like about once or twice a week, we talk. I am no longer doing the day-to-day business with them.
What do you think were the changes in the game that prompted this jump up to the next gear?The overall improvement, the increased intensity in his practice routines I think gives him the confidence to do better. Most of the players have to prove to themselves that they can do. By winning the $150K challenger in Anning, it gave him the confidence that he can do much more. The win against Shapovalov – I rank the highest out of everything because the pressure was high on him. Getting close to winning against a player of this ability and then clinching / winning it. If you defeat a top-25 player, it changes your career. Especially against someone like Denis Shapovalov who is going to be a star of the future. It was the same for my career when I defeated Carlos Moya – everything was different from thereon as I believed so much more in my game.
Prajnesh had two heart-break instances. First against Denis Istomin at the Australian Open WildCard Playoffs (article) and the second at the French Open – losing the lucky loser spot (article). How do you handle those situations where big GS level opportunities are lost.Against Istomin: It was a tough matchup for him. Lot of times, it happened in my career as well. I lost to Yevgeny Kafelnikov after having tons of match-points. I was 5-2 up in the 3rd and then several match-points in the tie-break. However, 2 weeks later, I defeated Carlos Moya. I told myself that I will not repeat the same mistakes again which is thinking about the consequences and going into the future without staying in the present. French Open: Honestly, you can put the blame on me. I told him that it has never happened that somebody who is the 8th lucky loser, gets a spot in the main draw. I told him, you played a good tourney but you are not going to get in. So go to Vincenza and build further on your good form. At the end of the day, he got in. I was the one on-site, trying to solve it for him, to somehow get him back into the draw but it did not work. I am sorry that it happened. On the other hand, getting in as lucky loser is not nearly as satisfying as qualifying for the grand slam.
What is the one thing that stands out to you about Prajnesh (game or personality), that he should never change?I can name couple of things. He is a very honest and good guy. Very good manners, very well educated, smart guy and he has amazing parents behind him. They do not interfere in his career and are very genuine. I met both of them several times and they are really good people. Parents play a very important role in a players career and this is true for Prajnesh as well. Overall a loyal and good hearted young man with a great character.
This article was first published on Indian Tennis Daily