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Keep fighting

V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM
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Tennis Christian Filhol’s sage advise to women players is to stay fit and never give up

REFERENCE MANUAL Filhol
REFERENCE MANUAL Filhol

He loves to be called an ‘advisor’ rather than a coach. The 51-year-old Frenchman Christian Filhol, who is widely respected for being some sort of reference manual by many of the top 100 players (mostly women) of the world in the tennis circuit, loves to travel and not confine himself to a particular player. So far, Filhol has guided the big names in women’s tennis including Mary Pierce, Elena Damentieva, Cara Black, Li Na to name a few.

“I never missed any Grand Slam event in the last 22 years,” says Filhol, the bachelor who is always on the move. “If I stay at home for two days, I feel sick. I love to be closer to tennis action at any given time,” he says with a big smile at the Sania Mirza Tennis Academy (SMTA) near Hyderabad recently.

Armed with minute details of almost every top player including thousands of hours of video recordings which he feels is his biggest treasure, Filhol believes that women’s tennis has become very demanding and highly competitive. “There is just no room for complacency. The sport merits very high level of fitness, focus and lots of hard work,” says Filhol after an hour’s stint on the synthetic courts at the SMTA with Sania and other young talent. “This is where Serena (Williams) stands out. She may not be mentally tough but physically extremely fit. Look at the way she sustains that hunger for big titles,” reminds Filhol.

On Sania, the Frenchman comments that he is yet to see a better forehand than the one from the Hyderabadi. “I can dare say it is Sania forehand. The disguise in speed, power and precision are fantastic. Very sad that her career was hit badly by some serious injuries every time she threatened to challenge the best,” he says.

Interestingly, Filhol insists that grunting is a key element in the success of a player. “When you play any sport, it is not just the opponent whom you are engaged. First, you have to beat the opponent within yourself. The body language is important. It is not that all those who don’t grunt are not great players. But they have their own ways of showing their focus. The intensity of expression is the key to unsettle the opponent,” he argues.

To the surprise of many at the SMTA, Filhol suggests that even when one is going to lose the match, it is imperative to play all the strokes especially the lob. “You never know; some sort of complacency might creep into the opponent’s game and give you a chance to squeeze back into the contest,” he says with a smile.

Then for someone like 15-year-old Shaik Jafreen from Kurnool, who represented India in the Deaflympics and whom Sania has decided to give free training at SMTA, it was an experience she would not forget easily.

She met her inspiration, Sania, for the first time and then within minutes had the chance of getting a few invaluable tips from Filhol.

“This is a dream come true for me. I just wish to improve a lot from all the advice of both Sania and Filhol. I am grateful to the Mirzas for giving me this huge platform,” was Jafreen’s reaction.

V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

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