In India to train promising youngsters to meet international standards, Swedish coach Henrik Ekersund has a busy two-year stint ahead of him. He shares his early impressions of the tennis scene…
Modern day tennis is truly global. The sheer number of countries that play the sport renders the pool of top players quite vast and the field high on competition. While a handful of players’ careers bloom, thousands’ wither away. It is in this scenario, where the role of a coach seems increasingly important, that Henrik Ekersund, a Swede with close to 20 years of specialisation in coaching and player development has been appointed by the All India Tennis Association.
“I see a lot of ambition among the players and the standards are better than I expected. My desire is to share the knowledge I acquired over the years about development of players, with countries trying to develop top athletes,” he says.
Henrik is one of those rare coaches with no experience of having competed at the international level. Though he played in the Swedish national league, he took to coaching at the age of 20. Now he comes after having done extensive research on the player development models of top tennis playing nations such as Spain, France, Russia and former Yugoslavia.
About the current Indian scene, he says, there is too high a focus on consistency early in a player’s career. “Tennis today is a lot more explosive, depends a lot on movement, racquet speed and power. One needs to develop the reactionary skills for these early on. Consistency can come later.”
It is in this context that the coaches’ programme needs to be looked at. Framing a set of guidelines for them to better their skill set is also one of his focus areas. “The juniors show a lot of promise. They practise so hard and it’s the coaches’ responsibility to give the players proper guidelines.”
For Henrik, it’s not just about the players’ and coaches’ education. An advocate of international exposure from an early age, the Swede says, “Environment also matters. Youngsters need to go to other countries, interact with a different set of players and imbibe certain qualities.” However, they need to come back to their home environment as spending too much time travelling takes its toll, he opines.
“The Chennai Open is great for youngsters. The top players they get to see and learn from are great. India needs a lot more international tournaments,” he says. A culture akin to Spain and Sweden, where players hardly venture out in need of tournaments in their formative years, being the need of the hour.
In addition to all this, he says players need a minimum of three to four years to make the transition from the junior to the senior levels. “Yuki Bhambri won the Australian [open] junior title in 2009. But some may say that he should have achieved more than what he has until now. But, to me, it’s a normal curve. The field is getting stronger. So you need to give them time and be patient.”
His brief extends for a little more than two years and he has been in India since April. He has so far travelled to Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Solapur, Indore, Gwalior and Chennai. But Henrik doesn’t seem to complain. “I will be in Delhi again…to watch the Nationals from October 8,” he says, as he gets ready to embark on the next leg of his assignment.