Karman Kaur Thandi tries to keep a straight face as she recites a statement now famous in the tennis sphere, “pressure is a privilege.” She refers to the expectation that falls on the shoulders of the new generation of women’s players emerging from the country. After Sania Mirza burst onto the stage in 2005 when she was 18, there was hope that more would follow. But still no player has risen to her levels.
That is, until the 2017 season when Thandi and Rutuja Bhosale began making their mark. The towering pair—Thandi stands at six feet and Bhosale is 5-foot-10— has been working up the ladder. While Thandi has jumped up to 312 – the second-highest singles player in India – after finishing 2016 at 603, Bhosale re-joined the professional tour in June and has already won two singles and five doubles Futures. It’s with these credentials that these two, along with the more seasoned Ankita Raina— who is India’s highest-ranked singles player at 281— and youngster Zeel Desai, have been granted wild card entries into the main draw of the Mumbai Open.
Yet, both Thandi and Bhosale have taken different routes to get to this level. Thandi, 19, has had the blessings and guidance of 12-time Grand Slam champion Mahesh Bhupathi. For the past two years, the Delhi girl has set her base in France at an academy run by Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou.
Apart from training and working on her fitness, the teenager has world no 38 Alize Cornet as hitting partner. “We rally together during training and play lots of super-tiebreakers,” Thandi says. “During those sessions you tend to see how the big players react to certain situations, and how they stay calm and patient.”
She’s also managed to work and improve on her service game. “It’s definitely my biggest weapon,” she says.
Thandi has competed in 24 tournaments so far this season, the last being a $25,000 Futures in Pune where she was the beaten finalist. On Monday though, she will play in her first ever 125K Series event. Among the current crop, only Bhosale has played at such a tournament, five years ago in Pune. She was the only Indian to make it to the second round.
A year later, though, she left the tour to accept a tennis scholarship offered by Texas A&M University. While working towards a degree in business studies, she continued chiselling her game. “I became so much more independent as a player. There were six matches on six courts at the same time, but only two coaches. So you had to learn to think for yourself and come up with solutions,” she says.