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Rushil Khosla, ‘the boy who became a teenage tennis sensation’ | tennisnews

At the age of 16, most children in India remain concerned about board exams and their future in academics, but young Rushil Khosla is already living his dream. Juggling his tennis career alongside academics, the 16-year-old is not only in the top-200 in International Tennis Federation (ITF) Junior Ranking, but earlier this month, Rushil led the Indian contingent at the Junior Davis Cup 2022 Qualifying Event, where the national side won in the Asia Oceanic region for the first time in the history to qualify for the Junior Davis Cup.

Rushil previously attained the Asia No. 1 rank at the age of 12 and retained it for weeks. He became the highest-ranked player in India in the U-16 age category and was honored with the Bal Shakti Puraskar in 2020 by the President of India for excellence in tennis – thus, becoming the first Indian Junior player to be the recipient of this award.

In an exclusive interview with Hindustan TimesRushil talked about his tennis journey and aspirations, while his coach Aditya Sachdeva, who is the technical director of RoundGlass Tennis Academy, shed light on what makes the youngster a standout among other budding talents and about the future on tennis in India.

Here are the excerpts…

How did tennis happen to you? At what age did you start playing?

rushil: I started playing at the age of seven and a half. From the very start, I was really interested in sports. My sister used to play tennis and watching her I picked up the racquet as well and got the interest.

Rushil with his coach Aditya Sachdeva

You are giving your board exams now. How do you juggle your academics with your tennis career? How difficult was it during the pandemic?

rushil: For studying, I just need one week because I can remember things very quickly. So, I need to take out that one week of time and I can easily get 84 or 90 in the exams. And tennis is already happening.

During the pandemic, the online classes were a blessing in disguise. To be honest, going to school was tough with tennis. Like if I want to practice, I can be out of Noida and still attend all the classes and do my training. Also, the pandemic gave me a lot of chances to improve my fitness and stuff and when the restrictions were eased and the tournaments began I started performing better.

Did left-handedness come naturally to you? And how would you describe your playing style?

rushil: I have no idea about (laughs). I really don’t know the story behind it. I never asked my parents. I don’t know if I picked up the pen with the right hand and they asked me to pick it up with the left. But from what I remember, I heard them talking about it once, that I did start off as a righty, but they asked me to be unique and I tried to do it with my left hand and it worked.

I feel I am a creative and an all-round player. I can be all over the court.

Who is your tennis idol?

rushil: I don’t really idolize anyone, but I have my favourites. The Big Three – Djokovic, Nadal and Federer – are my favourites.

Aditya, Tell us a bit about Rushil? When did you first come across the youngster?

The boy became a teenager, that’s all I’ll say. He came to me at the age of 11 and he is 16 now. I met his father once and both came down to Siri Fort one day when I was training there. I saw him play there and I loved the way he competes. He has got a unique quality to find solutions every time he plays so that is half the battle won when playing the match.

What particular quality makes him a standout?

Aditya: Most players only look at problems, but he has this unique quality to find two solutions to a problem and that makes him a standout. Although, it might be a blessing and a problem at times because he tends to overthink also. But with maturity, he is coming out of it and is sticking to one solution.

Rushil, tell us a bit about your coach Aditya and how have you transitioned as a player under his mentorship?

I have got a bit disciplined and mature (laughs). Before coming to him, I never remembered the things I needed to pack for training. And if he lets me loose, I am doing all the fancy stuff on the court which is not at all appropriate. If he is not supervising, I can do anything (laughs, again).

You had a superb 2021 – three doubles titles, one in singles. How do you assess your performance, your best memory?

rushil: My best memory was in Nairobi. There were so many milestones I reached – getting my first ITF points, and reaching the first finals. But the major milestone was the singles title. Besides that the entire 2021 went well – the Hyderabad doubles, two weeks in Pune were a great time. I went there (Pune) alone, and I managed myself pretty well.

You are sixth among India’s top 10 Juniors and in the top-200 in the world. How does ranking matter to you? And what is your ultimate goal in terms of ranking in 2022?

rushil: Rankings can be motivating and give you the challenge of making the top 100. But other than that, it doesn’t matter.

How was your experience leading the Indian Juniors team in the Davis Cup?

rushil: It was great. I can’t even describe it. First of all, I got the chance to play on my birthday was a great thing. The second great thing was being the first player in India and leading the team. And then we won and scripted history, which was the best thing. The ending was crazy. The atmosphere and all…I can still feel it in my heart that it happened to me I got the chance to be there on that day.

Aditya, how did you rate Rushil’s performance in that event?

I think he did well. To represent the country and carry that kind of pressure and deliver. It is easier said than done from the outside, but when you are playing for the nation, it has its own pressure. And I think he came out pretty well. Initially, the nerves were there, but when the quarterfinals and the semi-finals came, he started to settle down. I think he played the best tennis in the entire tournament during the finals.

You have been around for a while now as a coach, mentoring talented players like Yuki Bhambri and Karman Thandi. What is the first thing you notice in a budding tennis player?

Aditya: It’s discipline and the ability to compete. For me, it is all about competing, because the game can be learned at any time. But the ability to compete when the chips are down, get up and work hard, nothing replicates that.

What goes behind coaching a player like Rushil? What about the mental aspect of training?

Aditya: It is holistic training and the development of the athlete which we even at RoundGlass look at. We just don’t look at the skills and physicality, but also the mentality too. So we groom them before the matches and remind them of their strengths and make sure they play to their strengths all the time. If there are any nerves, we look to talk about it. There is pressure, but how in the world are truly blessed to be in Rushil’s place where they are leading the country and have the chance to showcase their talent to the world. That is one of the things we talk to them about so that they understand the pressure is a privilege.

Do you use Data and Analytics as well? How do you simply data stuff for a player?

Aditya: I started doing that in 2008 when I was in Australia for the first time with Yuki. I bought a software called Dartfish. So, I am a strong believer in data and analytics. From a tennis perspective, it is broken down into three parts – the short rallies (0-4), the regular rallies (4-9) and the long rallies (10+). So we break it up like that and speak to them accordingly because 70 per cent of the errors are made between the first four balls.

He is someone who has played with India greats like Paes and Bhupati and has mentored players like Yuki and Karman Thandi. What stories that he tells you about them to inspire you? Have you met any of them yet?

I met Yuki and Karman. I also met Leander and Ramkumar during India versus Spain Davis Cup match. Other than that, I met Rohan Bopanna in Qatar. So, I met most of them, but I never had the opportunity of having that nice little chat.

Rushil, what is your ultimate goal as a tennis player? Which Grand Slam tournament do you dream of playing in?

The Grand Slam obviously. I want to be in the Australian Open because I like Djokovic and him playing in the Australian Open and on those courts is something different.

Have you grown used to signing autographs now?

rushil: I signed my last in the Junior Davis Cup. Before that was the first time when I asked to sign in Pune. It was a doubles final and in the super tiebreaker, we won the match that person was impressed with my doubles skills and the understanding of the court and came up to me to ask for an autograph. It was a nice moment.

Aditya, what is the future of Indian tennis now?

It’s growing and doing well right now. The bench strength is pretty strong now. We got a lot of players in the top 300 now and the juniors have started doing well. As far as the future is concerned, we at RoundGlass have taken up the initiative to set up systems now, where we can nurture players from a very young age and develop them all the way through. So, the present is excellent and the hope is that coaches like us and companies like RoundGlass coming forward will make a huge difference for Indian tennis.

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