Celebrations were underway in the Kurale household in a small village named Channekuppi at district Kolhapur on Wednesday. Apart from his birthday, Sandesh Kurale has his recent national win at the National Junior Tennis Championship (U-18) as an added reason to make merry with his family and people of his village. His unmatched skill of perfect serves earned him the nickname ‘Big Server’ at the national tournament held in Indore last week. Kurale’s consistent performance, especially at the final match on April 3 and years of hard work finally came to fruition.
While the national win adds a feather to Kurale’s cap, the 18-year-old has big dreams for himself — to win a gold at the Olympics and to play against his idol, Roger Federer. So far, some of his notable singles’ achievements are winner at the AITA CS (U-18) held at Panchgani in 2019, AITA CS-7 (U-16) and AITA CS-7 (U-18) win at Jalandhar in 2019, winning the Sangli and Kolhapur open held between late 2019 and early 2020. Post-lockdown, Kurale managed to reach the semi-finals at the AITA Men’s in November 2020 in Sonepat and quarters at the same titular match held in December 2020 there.
Kurale has been training under brothers Adarsh Desai and Manal Desai, at the Arshad Desai Tennis Academy in Kolhapur. Kurale and his coaches open up about his career in tennis, the effect of the pandemic, his recent tournaments and his plans for the future,
How it all began
Kurale’s father, Dattatray Shankar Kurale who operates a tea shop in Gadhinglaj initially enrolled him in athletics. Although he performed well, his father found it better to direct him into a single event sport. Kurale also tried his hand at chess and swimming, but nothing seemed to fit right for him.
“It was tennis that attracted me and I was about eight or nine when I began with tennis. I just enjoy the footwork, hitting the ball and delivering serves,” said Kurale.
“I used to watch professional tennis matches on television and Sandesh picked up the sport. I made a small court in the vacant plot space near our farm. We practiced our drills there over the week, but as we did not have professional spaces in our village, I used to take him to Kolhapur by bus over the weekends, which is about 78 kilometres away from our village. I personally feel a player should be given at least ten years to develop their skills and prove their worth in the sport. A family alone cannot produce a player who can get a gold medal, as we too are limited somewhere,” said Kurale’s father.
While Kurale has been training at tennis courts of Kolhapur District Lawn Tennis Association since 2011 under various coaches, it was only five years later that Kurale met his coach Adarsh Desai, who returned to his hometown after his stint at Aurangabad.
“The fact that neither I nor my brother, Manal could attain much in our tennis careers, behaves as a driving force for the efforts we take for Sandesh. We never had enough facilities or opportunities, which gave us a better understanding of what the player will require,” said Adarsh.
“I used to spend a lot of time in transit which used to tire me out. My coach, Adarsh sir, then suggested that I stay with him in Kolhapur so that I could spend more time on the courts. When I had begun with tennis, I had a very basic serve style. Coach taught me the various services. Once I mastered the platform serves, he then introduced the pinpoint serve. The latter is more advantageous for my overall game,” said Kurale.
Pandemic effect, post-lockdown tournaments and the nationals
“During the lockdown, I was with Adarsh and Manal sir at their residence. While the practice for tennis began once the courts reopened, we worked on my physical and mental fitness and followed a balanced nutritional diet plan. We did our exercises and meditation in the terrace space. My endurance has increased as well as my confidence in myself as a player has bettered,” said Kurale.
“We exploited the time we got during the lockdown by working on his fitness and also developed his mental strength extensively. Another benefit we had during the time was that with his parents were away, there was limited input from them, while they continued to give the support from afar,” said Adarsh.
“Sandesh developed his services under me and a perfect serve is a benefactory asset for a tennis player. I am continuing to work on his forehand and service while with Adarsh he works on his backhand,” said Manal.
In his debut performance as a wild card entrant at the15k Men’s ITF in Pune, Kurale could not qualify due to underlying injuries endured in matches in Sonepat. “I was a little injured and hence could not give my best. I missed out on a chance given by MSLTA to go forward in the tournament,” he said.
But he did not let the loss deter him. In fact, he channelled his energy into winning the National Juniors (U-18) tournament. “The opponent in the semi-final never missed a ball and I had to make more efforts to break him. Moreover, in the finals, my opponent, who also is an exceptional player tried to tire me out, but I provoked him to make more easy errors,” said Kurale. Manal added that the advantage Kurale had during the nationals was his overall fitness and his serve, which is his weapon.
Long term goals
“I want to play more ITF Men’s and also the Challenger tournaments. From there, I also want to play at the ATP tournaments. But my ultimate goal is to clinch a gold at the Olympics