From Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros to the Nadal Academy: Adil Kalyanpur
The winner of the Indian leg of last year's "Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros, in partnership with Longines", Adil Kalyanpur subsequently suffered disappointment in Paris, failing to progress after finishing second in his group, behind the South Korean Minseob Lim. However, the Indian youngster took full advantage of his time in Paris, including making the acquaintance of a certain Toni Nadal, and he later penned a three-year contract with the Rafa Nadal Academy, where he has been based since summer 2016.
A real-life fairy tale if ever there was one, since last summer Adil Kalyanpur has been training at the academy set up by his favourite player… who also happens to be the first-ever pro the Indian starlet met, when he was just eight years of age. "I went to watch the Chennai Open in 2008. I stayed at the same hotel as Rafael Nadal and accidentally bumped into him at lunch. He was the first-ever top player I met in person. I was a very shy eight-year-old. I just said 'good luck for the final Rafa, I believe in you!' I got a picture with him and his autograph."
Little did Kalyanpur know that, due to his talents with a racquet in hand, what was once just a family hobby would lead him to cross paths with the Spanish ace again in the future. "I started playing tennis when I was around five and a half in a club very close to my house. With my parents and my sister Alisha, we played recreational tennis and had a lot of fun. We sometimes have family doubles and have some good laughs."
These doubles games have naturally become somewhat less frequent since Adil left for the Rafa Nadal Academy, in Majorca. "I go home at least once every 3-4 months, mainly for school and to see my friends and family. I try to plan my trips back home so that I can include some tournaments as well. But most of my time is spent in Europe these days. I do miss my family and country a lot but I'm also blessed by the opportunity to be able to follow my dreams and my passion. Missing home is part and parcel of the journey but you learn to not let that get in the way. I have an Indian flag and a picture of my family wherever I am in the world and that's all the inspiration and comfort I need."
"My grandmother, aunt and sister also came to Paris that week to watch me play"
His mother and father, Sunita and Arjun, who are both doctors, were able to take the time off to travel to France and see their son in action in the final phase of the "Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros, in partnership with Longines" last year. "My parents try to come to a few tournaments here and there. Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros was a very special tournament so they made sure that they would be there for that. My grandmother, aunt and sister also came to Paris that week to watch me play. It was very nice, none of my family wanted to leave. I was happy with my performance because I gave my best on court. I wasn't entirely happy about the result but was very satisfied with my effort. I lacked in physicality a lot and realised that I needed to work really hard on my fitness."
"Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros, in partnership with Longines" 2016: the best of
Thanks to the contacts of his coach, Vishal Uppal, who is close friends with Leander Paes, Adil was able to extend his stay at Roland-Garros and serve as a sparring partner to several players. Even more significantly, he got the chance to meet Toni Nadal. "I contacted the Rafa Nadal Academy because I was interested in training there. They told me that Carlos Costa and Toni Nadal were at Roland-Garros with Rafa so they gave me passes to watch his match against Facundo Bagnis while sitting in his box, next to Toni Nadal. My family and I met with them right after the match regarding my training. I was in a state of shock and excitement. I couldn't keep my emotions together. It was an amazing feeling being in Rafa's box on centre court. I remember cheering 'vamos Rafa' many times and really enjoying the match."
"Carlos Costa said that he really liked the way I took charge of the decision"
"I was very motivated after that experience and told my parents that I'd work very hard and do whatever it takes to play there one day. During the talk with Toni and Carlos, I learned a lot about the academy and liked what I heard. My family and I decided on the same day that I should go and try it out for a week. Carlos Costa said that he really liked the way I took charge of the decision. By the second day of training at the academy, I knew that that was the place for me. Within 2-3 weeks, I had signed the contract for three years. We all felt good about it and were confident that we made the right decision."
As well as developing his game under the stewardship of Joan Bosch and the other coaches at the academy, Adil has strived to bolster his core strength and conditioning. This should stand him in good stead as he increasingly transitions to the pro circuit, while still continuing to play some junior events for the time being. "I feel I improved a lot in many different ways. I'm physically a lot stronger now and I'm able to last longer in tough matches. My game has gotten more solid and consistent. I've worked mentally as well to stay calm and intense. Overall, my game has gotten better. My plan is to play half juniors and half pro-tournaments. My ranking went down a bit as I took some time to focus more on training and getting stronger. I'm going to start playing a lot more tournaments now and hopefully end the year in the ATP top 800. It's a big goal and I'm working hard to achieve it and if things go well, I can get there."
Playing the Roland-Garros main draw, "the ultimate goal"
He may not have begun shooting up the rankings just yet, but Adil has already enjoyed a taste of the highest level as the fifth member of India's Davis Cup team for their Asia/Oceania Zone Group I first-round match against New Zealand in February, in which the Asians ran out 4-1 winners. "To be in the Davis Cup team was a fantastic experience. Representing my country is a huge motivation for me and to get an opportunity to be part of the Indian team was an absolute honour. I learned so much and got to feel the energy of the crowd on centre court. Overall it was a huge stepping stone and I hope to represent my country in the coming years."
Since then, it has been back to school for Adil, who splits his days between online classes via the National Institute of Open Schooling – where he is completing his high-school studies – and training at the academy, where he sometimes gets to rub shoulders with his hero. "Rafa is extremely nice and kind-hearted. It's such an eye-opener to be on court across from a champion. He's given me a few tips which have been working really well. He's one of my favourite players. The intensity with which he trains and the attitude he has towards hitting each ball to its maximum potential is something that I really admire and I am working towards," enthused the youngster, who hopes to one day follow in the Majorcan's footsteps by gracing the hallowed clay of the Philippe-Chatrier Court. "To play at Roland-Garros is my ultimate goal. I've been watching it on TV for so many years now. Watching Rafa dominate the clay court year after year is the most special memory I have. It would be a dream to compete there one day."