Hyderabad boy Ashwin Vijayaragavan worked wonders with the racket, beginning the year by clinching the doubles title and reaching the semi-finals at the National Grass Court Tennis tournament. At the age of 14, he knew that tennis was his calling and after a rough 2013 plagued by injuries, he came back strong to prove his mettle this year. As a University of Texas graduate, Ashwin was the number one player in the team and had a lot of success both in singles and doubles. He got the much needed breakthrough last year when he was selected to represent India in the Davis Cup. In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, the inspiring tennis star shares his dreams, aspirations and what it takes to reach the top..
Q: As a youngster, who was your greatest inspiration/role model?
As a youngster my greatest role model was my dad as he himself was a sportsman and was an Arjuna Awardee in basketball in the year 1977. I always looked up to him as he was very successful in both academics and sports. I learnt a lot from him like the way he carried himself.
Q: How was your journey leading up to the Davis Cup breakthrough last year?
In January 2013 I got selected for the Davis cup team. It was due to my consistent performance in 2012. It was an incredible journey as I started from scratch and had some great wins under my belt. I got to interact with many players which was a blessing in disguise and I was lucky enough to be part of the Davis cup team which was one of my dreams.
Q: What do you think is the most important factor that drove you to take up tennis seriously?
My brother was a tennis player. I always saw him go to the courts with a tennis racket and I enjoyed watching the game. Even though my first love was cricket one day I generally went to the courts with my brother and decided to play. I developed a special love towards the sport and didn’t want to leave it after that.
Q: What do you think are the greatest challenges faced by many youngsters who want to take up tennis professionally?
These days when you reach the age of 16 or 17 parents and your relatives start talking about the future and what should be done to go ahead in life. Sometimes they forget their kids are enjoying what they are doing (that is playing tennis). So unless the kid is right up there winning a men’s title at the age of 16 or something big the parents don’t take their sport that seriously. The first big thing the juniors need to overcome is parental pressure. You come home after losing a match and the first question they would ask is ‘why didn’t you win?’ Parents do not have sufficient understanding about the difficulty of these games as they are not a part of it. Tennis is an individual sport, you play alone and only one player wins. Once you reach a certain level, sponsors play an important role. It’s a grind and its awful when you don’t win but what’s even more awful is the pressure you face at home.
Q: After a particular age, it is getting very difficult for a youngster to take up sports professionally because of parental pressure. Tell us what you think about this.
Parental pressure is one of the main reasons for many tennis players to stop mid-way. I personally know many people who have succumbed to this. They are given a certain time to reach a particular level and when that is not possible, there is no question but for the player to quit. You can’t expect to achieve your goals right away. This game is one of the toughest and you need to give yourself some time. I hope parents are more understanding and give their kids time and believe in them.
Q: On a personal level how supportive was your family in letting you pursue your career?
I have been very lucky to have great parents, they supported me at every stage and they always let me pursue my dream. They have been like my friends and they were there for me during the toughest moments. I am very fortunate and I owe them a lot. Whatever I am today is because of them. There is one more person, my brother, who has been my best friend and has made the toughest times easy by supporting me and being there for me.
Q: What is your long term goal as a tennis player?
My long term goal is to make it to the top 100 in the ATP so that i could get into a Grand Slam.
Q: Tennis is a growing sport in India. How bright do you think is the future of Indian tennis?
Looking at things right now i think the future is bright and i won’t be surprised if we see another couple of Somdevs in the coming years. Maybe I will be one of them.
Q: Tell us about your doubles victory and your performance at the National Grass Court Tennis tournament in January this year.
It was great to win the doubles title and start off the year. After a rough 2013, it was a good way to bounce back. I went into the competition looking forward to do well at the singles level. I reached the semi-finals in that. The doubles victory was an added bonus. Overall, it was an amazing experience.
Q: Some words of encouragement for the youngsters out there who want to take up tennis..
Simple advice to the youngsters out there – just enjoy the game. Yes, its easy to comment and people will give you a hard time, including your parents, but the only way out is to enjoy the challenge and go live your dream. You may see a lot of tough barriers but you will emerge as a winner. And for the parents out there, please support your children. Let them live their dream and do what they love. Eventually its their happiness which counts.