For city-born Indian tennis star Sriram Balaji, getting into the Indian Davis Cup squad last week was a major break. “I always knew it was coming as I had some good results under my belt this year,” he said.
In a casual chat at The Hindu office, the 22-year-old termed the experience special. “I was on the reserve list but it was still very special. I enjoyed watching the game from the sidelines. It did not matter much who played but, I stood there to root for my mates because they were playing for the country,” he added.
India was up against the New Zealand in the Asia-Oceania Davis Cup relegation play-off tie at the CLTA Stadium in Chandigarh. “It was a young team and the pressure was much on non-playing captain S.P. Misra. I expected a 3-2 result but a 5-0 finish was something good,” said Balaji.
The Germany-based youngster called it ‘team effort.’ “Starting from coaches to trainers to players, it was everyone’s effort.”
On his career growth, he said it has been a comfortable climb to the top. “It started from Uzbekistan in August this year. I was ranked sixth before that, but now I have moved three places up.”
“The year has been pretty kind to me. I won a Futures event in Chennai and another in Iran, last month. Also, I have won seven Futures doubles titles with different partners,” he added.
The ambitious Balaji was quite clear about his plans. “Starting this year, I had a goal. I wanted to be in the top 400. Now, I am at 326. The next three months, I have quite a few tournaments. I will have to further improve it to 270- 280 because that is the borderline for the Australian Open qualifiers. It is pretty difficult, but I am working hard.”
“That’s a short-term goal,” he quickly added.
How about long term plans? “I have not chalked out that because the last couple of years, I have suffered minor injuries. And, it has hampered my progress a bit. Thankfully, I have managed to stay fit this year,” said Balaji.
About shifting base to Germany in 2010, he said the first year was pretty hard. “I did not have proper guidance at the start. Only after I moved to Germany, I knew what life had in store for me. Initially, it was pretty difficult and I felt like returning to India. But, today Germany is like my first home.”
He said the German stint has paid off rich dividends. “The quality is much better there. Quality in terms of intensity, I mean. There’s a coach always with us and we give our 100 per cent on court. Also, we have good hitting partners. And, that makes a lot of difference.”
Balaji’s big strength is his serve. “I am happy that my forehand, which till last year was weak, is my big weapon now. But, I will have to improve on my shot selection and changing direction of shots.”
He thanked the TNTA and Karthi Chidambaram, the AITA vice-president for their support.
Balaji had words of advice for the juniors. “Work hard. It really pays. I also want more youngsters to take tennis seriously. I will be pleased if their parents support them as well.”