Chandra Sir, the unsung tennis coach revving up Ramkumar Ramanathan

Ramkumar Ramnathan with his coach T Chandrasekaran. Credits ( S Kannan)

Ramkumar Ramanathan has been one of the quiet performers in Indian tennis. Be it at the Chennai Open, which was India’s biggest ATP Tour event,or the Davis Cup, Ram, as he is addressed by all, was a solid singles player. After all, he had beaten even SomdevDevvarman during his peak in 2014.
Ramkumar’s adrenaline-fuelled performances in the Davis Cup, including the star turn for India in Pakistan, earned him plenty of praise. Zeeshan Ali, the coach-cum-captain, had in a recent interview with RevSportz, praised the courageous efforts from Ram. That was despite the Chennai man’s reluctance to play on grass!
What has brought Ram back in the news again is the series of Challengers he has played in the last three weeks, in Chennai, Bengaluru and Pune. His wins in singles are beyond the realm of imagination, and triumphs in doubles are his bread and butter.
The rebirth of Ram in singles has been the high point, where audacity and courage have been the hallmark. He bumped out Stefano Napolitano, winner of the Bengaluru leg, in the first round in Pune. This win was no flash in the pan.
Speaking to RevSportz, Ramkumar Ramanathan was almost reverential when he spoke of the guidance from one of India’s oldest coaches, TChandrasekaran. “Blessings from Chandra Sir, as always,” Ramkumar told RevSportz on Thursday. “I owe my deep gratitude to Chandra Sir that he is now travelling with me in India, and I am doing so well.”

To be sure, the story of Ram has been chronicled many times, but not that of Chandra Sir, as the guru is known. The unassuming man in his mid-60s has been involved with Indian tennis for over 50 years. Yes, five decades back, firstas a player,he competed with Ramesh Krishnan before becoming a coach. He did his NIS programme, and has a coaching diploma.
Chandra has worked with several tennis players who became stars later. Just to jog the readers’ memory, way back when Vijay Amritraj set up the Britannia Amritraj Trust (BAT) academy in Madras, now Chennai, Chandra Sir and American coach David O’Meara were the brains. Ask Leander Paes, Asif Ismail, Gaurav Natekar, Vasudeva Reddy, PSrinath and many other former Davis Cuppers, and they will speak about Chandra Sir at length.
Some have felt the coach is obsessed with technique, fundamentals, correct racquet grip and associated dynamics. But then, for an Indian, he is well-versed with modern tennis, despite not boasting of coaching certificates from Europe or the USA. “Ha, ha, ha, you want to interview me, what have I done?”asked Chandra, as he spoke to this writer. It is very tough to interview a coach you have seen deliver results for over four decades, without wanting credit. “Talk to Ram, he is winning,” said Chandra. “I have done nothing.”

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Only after much prodding did the coach open up on Ramkumar, a protégé he has coached before. “I have never doubted the game and skills of Ram,” he said. “I have seen him for over 15 years, and he is committed. Old students are reverential and Ram’s results in singles do not surprise me.”
In his view, the forehand and backhand are no secrets for players. “Match strategy, mental preparation, how to approach a match and play to strengths, this has been my advice to Ram,” said Chandra. “In the middle of a four-week tight season, I cannot be disturbing his game, technically. Match preparation is mind preparation and instilling faith in Ram. He can go out and whack the hell out of his opponent. That’s my job, and results are there to see. I take no credit for it.”
A simple man who has even bought shoes, racquets and much more for players, this coach is more of a Yogi. He has seen several generations and was travelling coach with an Indian bunch in 2003 when Sania Mirza and Sanaa Bhambri were travelling to the French Open and Wimbledon as juniors funded by the ITF development programme. “It has been a joy for me to work with boys and girls,” said Chandra. “This is what I will carry to the grave, my karma.”

He can talk tennis non-stop and recalls what he did while drilling the forehand fundamentals into Paes way back in the mid-1980s.
When Paes won the junior Wimbledon title in 1990, coach O’Meara got all the credit. Chandra never minded it. And he didn’t mind when the American coach went to the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 with Paes, who won a bronze medal.
For Chandra, tennis is a way of life, having been part of so many programmes in various cities. When he was head at the Dharam Hinduja National Tennis Academy in New Delhi in the 1990s, he worked hard in a residential academy set-up. He produced players, but never wanted the wards to say good things about him.
So, even when Ramkumar would go to the Sergio Casal academy in Spain for advanced training, the coach in Chandra was happy. Any other coach in the Indian system would have been jealous. One should not forget that none other than Karti Chidambaram backed Ram financially for his tennis.
For the record, Chandrasekaran never applied for the Dronacharya Award, despite his credentials over these decades. “Why, Kannan, let me just help the kids,” he told me. That’s my award and reward.”
Magician or maverick? You decide.

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