At 70, Anand Amritraj still finds the urge to reach out for a tennis racket, having a casual hit with Gaurav Natekar a few days ago on the outside courts of Pune. When not doing that, he swaps it for a mic watching tennis and commentating for the ATP Tata Open Maharashtra here.
The former world No 74 had called Manas Dhamne’s first-round match with Michael Mmoh earlier this weekthe 15-year-old Indian showing potential in the 6-2, 6-4 defeat. In the present gloomy space of Indian singles tennis, the teen offers hope. Anand, India’s former India Davis Cup player and captain, agrees, and talks about where the progression gulf between promising players from India and other countries widens. Excerpts from an interview:
With what you saw of Manas Dhamne here, how impressed were you?.
I thought he played very well. He could’ve easily come back in that second set. At 15 years old, it’s amazing how well he is playing already. But the thing is, there are so many good ground-strokers around. He’s got to move forward, be able to close out points a little bit more. But when you’re 15, you get a bit more time. If you’re 20, it’s a different story. I was really impressed with him. He has a very, very bright future.
He played a lot from the baseline, and felt comfortable there. What aspects of his game could he get better at?.
I mean, everything about his game can get better. His serve could get better, obviously. And it will get better. It’s not a classic service action. But you’ve got to be able to serve 130-140 miles an hour like these guys and also place it well.
But he is 15, and for any 15-year-old the way he plays is wonderful. He’s already proven himself at the top of the age group—at the Orange Bowl, Eddie Herr (Championships), U-14 Asia/Oceania ITF event. He’s our next star coming up. He can definitely be a top-100 player. I’m glad we have him. I just hope he gets all the support he needs, physically and mentally. And after a certain point it’s all between the ears.
How do you make that serve better, is it just about practicing it day in day out?.
Accuracy comes by practice: hitting 100-200 serves every single day. How the speed gets better is by better turn of the shoulder, meeting the ball at the high point of the toss—technical stuff like this that the coach needs to work on.
What will be the key in turning his promise and potential into something meaningful, like getting into the top-100, top-50 that young talents from other countries seem to smoothly transition to?.
When I watch some of these guys here playing, they play so well. Someone like Dutchman Tim van Rijthoven (25, ranked 111), Italian Flavio Cobolli (20, ranked 171), they hit the ball so hard. These guys are also physically much stronger. We have to work very hard to get to that physical level. If you look at the Dutch guys, or someone like (Russia’s Aslan) Karatsev, they’re all massively built. They have that to begin with, and then they work hard. Our guys are not as physically gifted, so then you’ve got to be super talented.
So how do you get to that physical level? We’ve seen young Indian players break down and pegged back by injuries often…
Work like a dog. You’ve got to put in that kind of dedication and effort. But having said that, tennis is as much a mental game. So you really need to be able to match them physically, and then have that mental edge. If you watched all our greats, Vijay (Amritraj), the Krishnans, they all had that something extra. And that’s in the mind. For any of our players to get to that level now, top 20 in the world, it’s going to be a struggle. Because the game is so physical now, which makes it more difficult for the Indian guys. Strength is a big factor, so is the movement. And we don’t have either. Not at that level.
Ramkumar Ramanathan and Yuki Bhambri have also drifted towards doubles. At that age and career stage, is that a trend you like?.
In my opinion, it’s too early. I was telling Ramkumar the other day that he should stick with it singles, that it’s too early for him to toss it in and play doubles. When he’d come down to Indian Wells too I’d told him the same, ‘Ram, too early buddy. Stick to your singles, and I’m sure you can do better’. I’ve seen Yuki play one of the best matches I’ve ever seen, in a Davis Cup tie against New Zealand under me. But in the end, it also comes down to finances. I don’t know what the motivation is, but if that is the motivation then I can understand.
Among the current and upcoming lot, do you see an Indian getting back into the world’s top 100? The country’s current highest-ranked singles player is in the 300s…
That’s a shame. That’s really tragic. I think Mukund (Sasikumar) could definitely be between 100 and 200 and if he gets a few lucky breaks, possibly top 100 too. The same thing with Sumit (Nagal) and Manas. It’s unfortunate Sumit got injured while he was around there (122 in August 2020). All three of them, from what I saw, are capable of getting between 100 and 150. But that’s not where the money is; it’s in the top 100 where you can get into the four Slams. And there’s a huge difference between 110 and 90.