Maharashtra Open 2018: Arjun Kadhe's tryst with unchartered glory
Stadium support is a beautiful thing in sport. It infuses the players with confidence, elevates them from the deepest trenches of self-doubt and so often, engenders incredible and inspiring comeback stories. It is a big component of tennis and plays a huge role on every athlete’s psyche whenever he steps onto those grass, clay and hard courts.
Many times, leering crowds can puncture a player’s self-esteem and make life tough for him in testing matches. It makes the battle on court ten times harder and is a litmus test, even for world-class athletes.
Local boy, Arjun Kadhe, does not have to worry about the crowd at the Maharashtra Open though. The fans from his home city are cheering for him in full swing and are proving to be the extra spine for the 23-year-old in his first ATP 250 event.
His dream of playing at the tournament materialized with him winning his first futures title in Vietnam in November last year.
“It is a great opportunity for me to experience this level of tennis and I’m very glad and thankful to the tournament director, Prakash Sutar, and also to the MSLTA for giving me this opportunity to play here. Personally, I’m very excited to get on board and very happy to play,” said Kadhe in an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda.
He was away from Pune for the past three and a half years to live and train at the Oklahoma State University, where he holds a proud record of 104 doubles and 72 singles victories. He is now back to his home city with the hope of making it count on the biggest of stages at the prestigious event.
Speaking about the same, he said, “It is always special to play any event. This is even special as it is such a huge tournament and that too, in Pune. I’m going to try and enjoy the atmosphere and soak it up as much as possible.”
This is a big opportunity for a young player like him. He will strive to make it count and start smashing his tremendous forehands on the centre court of the Balewadi Stadium today (January 2).
When asked whether he was nervous or excited to participate in the big event, he answered, “I’m more excited. The nervous will probably jump in before my match. For now, I’m really excited and I hope it stays that way. I’m like a kid in a chocolate factory right now, seeing these players and watching them play. Time is really flying by.”
Pursuing a career in a tough sport like tennis is always testing, more so in India, where the societal and academic pressures on budding athletes chain them more often than not.
Kadhe, however, has been lucky in that respect.
The roots of tennis were buried deep in his household and he received the best gift that he could from his parents very early in his life: his love for the game.
“I have been very fortunate in my career so far. I found my first coach in my father, who also played tennis. When I was a kid, my mom used to take me to watch him play. I grew up around the tennis court. Tennis was always in and around me. My tryst with tennis started slowly. My three-year long career at OKU really helped my development. The journey has been really good so far.”
The right-hander has already experienced different shades of success in his still-nascent professional career. He speaks proudly of his competitive tours across the globe. Most of these trips were solitary for the novice, but he developed with every match he contested therein.
“You grow as a player; you grow as a person as well when you travel alone and learn different kinds. Tennis has not only taught me to train hard and be an athlete but also different aspects of life that I tend to use. I have represented India in U14s, U16s and then at junior Grand Slams. I got the chance to meet Roger (Federer) and Rafa (Nadal). Playing in the same courts that they played in was great,” he said, reminiscing about his experiences so far.
Kadhe believes that his playing style tilts towards the aggressive side of the game. He said, “I like to use my serve and my forehand. Aggressive tennis is my strength. I prefer to run into the net and use power in my shots whenever possible.”
American great, Andy Roddick, was his inspiration growing up.
"His attitude, the way he carried himself on the court: he was always electric, never boring to watch. He was my favourite player. My parents always liked Roger or Rafa, or someone else. But I always stuck to Roddick.”
“I even tried to imitate Roddick once while serving. My coach advised me to start playing in the Grand Slams and then try to play like him!”
Indian tennis has taken giant strides in recent years in the doubles arena. With Leander Paes, Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza playing and winning at the elite level for years together, the tricolour, definitely, is flying high in the sport. However, singles continue to be an area of worry for the Indian fans, as no Indian player has managed to break into the top group as of yet.
Speaking about India’s chances in singles in the upcoming years, Kadhe stated, “Indian tennis is growing. A lot of players do believe now that they can go all the way at the highest level, play the slams one day. The mentality has changed. Everyone’s more professional. The gap is closing. Earlier it was just Leander and Bhupathi, the rest were nowhere near. Now everyone is catching up and the competition has improved. Soon we will see a lot of players playing the big events in singles as well.”
Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray missed a massive chunk of 2017 due to recurring fitness problems. They were both scheduled to play in the first week of the year but pulled out of their respective events due to injury signs yet again. In this extremely difficult environment where players are put to a endurance test at every single level, to learn how to rise after setbacks is a must for all up-and-coming athletes.
“I learned it by watching players like Leander and Bhupathi,” revealed Kadhe.
“They have been around for such a long time. Even they’ve had injuries. Tennis is such a tough sport. You have to learn, you have to adapt. I try new things, keep working at them. I’m a fighter and if I do have an injury one day, I trust myself to find a way out of it to make a comeback on the court.”
The beauty of sport is that it amalgamates the dynamism of the young with the skill of the experienced, at all times. A tournament like the Maharashtra Open, which is preparation ground for someone like Marin Cilic, is a riveting opportunity for youngsters like Kadhe, simultaneously.
The local boy will take on Yuki Bhambri in the first round of the event and his resilience will be put to the ultimate test. However, the immense support that he received from the Pune crowd in his doubles venture will definitely be at the back of his mind and will usher him to bring his A game into play in this colossal match in his caree