India needs a big break in tennis, says one of India's highest certified coaches
Mukul Karthikeyan, the freshly-certified MOTP coach has seen from up-close how tennis training works in the US and China and speaks hopefully about a change in India.
Often unknown to players and their mammoth capacity to influence and inspire people with their skills - a lot of wonderful things happen. One such occurrence happened in the life of a young Mukul Karthikeyan, when he was barely into his teens, surfing through the television, when he stumbled across tennis legend, Roger Federer, in his flamboyant peak. And it was like falling in love - head over heels with this sport called tennis - as Federer spun magic with his racquet, pirouetting with perfection and lunging forehands and serving and volleying to one Grand Slam victory after the other.
The decision to take up tennis - in whatever capacity, seemed like the perfect idea for a young Mukul who got attracted to coaching during his college days at the PSG College of Arts and Science, in his hometown of Coimbatore.
"When I was 17-18, I felt that I could excel as a coach. I was always very stubborn about my goals and hence my parents also supported me, seeing my interest. I worked hard and smartly on my goals and saw that I was being able to create a positive impact," Mukul Karthikeyan tells The Bridge in an exclusive conversation, after completing the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR)'s Master of Tennis Performance (MOTP) - the highest certification in tennis coaching at the beginning of November 2021.
The MOTP certification is no mean feat and Mukul Karthikeyan became only the 3rd Indian and the 17th Asian to achieve this, as he joined a cohort of 76 elite coaches worldwide with this. The MOTP program is accredited by the National Council of Accreditation of Coaching Education (NCACE), National Standards for Sports Coaches (NSSC), and United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and also happens to parallel in competency level to that of being a top ITF coach.
Coaching as an eye-opener
Mukul's foray into modern-day tennis has been an eye-opening journey that has taken him to the United States of America and China for various coaching stints. During his tenure there, the 29-year-old has seen how the systems work in the different countries and having had the opportunity to coach players of more than 14 countries, Mukul has gained a lot of knowledge.
Mukul, who was the youngest inductee of the PTR Indian Coach of the Year 2017, has seen from up-close just how demanding the sport of tennis has become in the present day and how coaching plays an integral role in the shaping of players. "I have been around some legendary tennis coaches and former top 10 players who gave me great insights. It was a very unique experience for me," Mukul gratefully says.
Having rubbed shoulders with former pro's and touring coaches that include Wayne Ferreira (Former World No. 6), Marcos Ondruska (South African Davis Cup Captain), Thomas Shimada (Japanese National team Coach), Yu Liqiao, Chen Hao(Chinese National Team Coaches) and PTR Hall of Famer Dr.Ludovit Cap, Pat Van Der Meer, Steve Rickard, Todd Clark, Louis Lim, Brian De Villiers and his PTR MOTP tutor Dr. Anne Pankhurst to mention a few; Mukul has been an avid learner and has picked up a lot from them, which he implements in his own coaching methodology.
The changing landscape of tennis
Talking about the Indian tennis circuit, Mukul remains hopeful of better days to come as he is seeing more people take interest in taking up coaching. "Earlier, coaching would seem like a sad, salary-based job but now the mindset is changing and many Indian coaches, who are young, are coming up, who only want to focus on the career aspect," he says.
"In India, we need to remember that tennis is a very financially tough sport and therefore sustaining it for the long-term becomes hard for us. But nowadays parents are very concerned about the fitness of their children and are involving kids into sports which helps more number of participations which creates the sporting culture leading to engaging more players in the coming years," Mukul mentions.
"Earlier, parents would be insecure about their kids not being able to make it professionally. But the US college scholarship pathway helps to change the attitude of them," Mukul says, having worked with young players for most of his life as a coach.
Moreover, the entire landscape of tennis has transformed. Having coached many top juniors from a variety of backgrounds, countries, cultures, milieu, Mukul has been able to decipher the many things at play behind shaping up modern tennis. While the Indian players are good with their hand skills, the Americans are with big-serving profile, while the Asians love to excel in Counter puncher profile, Europeans come up with big serves plus the movement and consistency of a counterpuncher which makes it a hybrid profile, the whole mix is wonderful to analyze for a coach and shape a rounded player, ultimately.
"Tennis is getting more physical. The players focus on the game but the combination is about technique, tactics, mental, physical. Slacking on any one part is a drawback and nobody can sustain that way nowadays. You can take a look at Novak Djokovic too, he has shown so many different aspects of the game and really pushed the boundaries with that mental strength. Producing players with world-class standards nowadays isn't simple. As a coach we need to have a better understanding a lot of in-depth knowledge of stages of development, stroke production, Court geometry, biomechanics, stats, and a lot of other things as well," the MOTP coach mentioned, who has had to train in such comprehensive aspects of tennis in his recent Master's course and is well-equipped to pass on that knowledge to budding players.
Mukul, through his customized coaching skills and devising of personalized training regime with a rare combination of talent and global experience, has been able to make a mark as a World-class tennis coach at this young age. "The amount of positive impact I could cause on the players, both on and off the court gave me the confidence and made me feel that I have a good, purposeful career," Mukul mentions with confidence.
Having traversed the world, Mukul has picked up a lot and is supported by his mentors, Dr. Ludovit Cap, Marcos Ondruska, Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi (Education Minister of Tamil Nadu), Mukul's resolve to fashion tennis champions have only further strengthened.
Asked about where his illustrious career will see him next, Mukul says, "The journey is going to be continued and I will always have unquenchable thirst towards my coaching, Will travel back again around the globe for producing world-class juniors," the enthusiasm ever-present in his voice, as he signs off.