Training stint at Djokovic’s Serbia leaves Saijayani asking for more
Kolkata’s 16-year-old upcoming player looks for sponsorship to sustain her dreams of overseas training
At 16 years, the lithe Saijayani Banerjee passes off as just another upcoming tennis player hitting balls religiously on the courts of a South Calcutta club. She had carved a niche for herself at the age group state tournaments and been making knockout stages of national ranking tournaments for a while – till a three-month joust at Novak Djokovic’s backyard turned out to be an eye-opener for her.
Yes, it’s not everyday that a girl from Kolkata – a city which may have produced many a men’s tennis legends including Leander Paes but no significant women player – dared to venture in such an unchartered territory. It was her parents’ enthusiasm to help Saijayani chase her dream that saw her go through an advanced course at Tipsarevic Tennis Academy in Belgrade from May 7 to August 5.
"It was a major cultural shift for me, you can say. I have gained in terms of strength, endurance, agility and flexibility and feel strongly that’s the place to be if one has to make a mark as a professional,’’ said Saijayani, still awestruck at such an exposure. The academy, founded by Janko Tipsarevic, a former world No.8 and good friend of Djokovic helps grooming wannabe players from other European countries like Spain, Italy and the Far East but quite expectedly – the Class XI student of Garden High School was their first Indian student.
The euphoria of that experience over, both Saijayani and her parents feel they are now somewhat at the crossroads in her fledgling career. ‘’She had been out of the AITA circuit for awhile, first due to her Class X exams and then this Tour. Her local coach, Saurav Panja – a former India player – feels she should do her training abroad and play here if she wants to take her game to the next level. This is where we need sponsorship in some form or the other,’’ chipped in Sagnik Banerjee, her father who runs a consultancy business and accompanied his daughter in Serbia.
The generation of Tipsarevic, who retired from the ATP Tour in 2012, and Djokoic had grown up during the times of Civil War in their country and the camaraderie between the two neighbourhood heroes is quite palpable. ‘’I learnt that Djokovic, my most favourite player, drops by at his (Tipsarevic) academy to interact with the trainees and often hits with them. While I did not have such luck, Tipsarevic had a number of counselling sessions with me – trying to talk me through the psychological aspects – while an experienced set of coaches handled the on-court sessions,’’ she said during a chat.
What was an usual day for her at the academy? ‘’There would be two hitting sessions of two hours each, one from 8-10 am and then between 1 pm and 3pm, following by two hours of fitness training. There would sometimes be a session of fun and games, which basically meant bursting your guts in beach volleyball etc,’’ she said with a smile.
Beginning as a nervous starter who was struggling to cope with the extremely cold weather and wind chill there, Saijayani felt she made tangible progress – winning a Grade 2 European Tennis Tournament comprising of shorter games. The challenge before Saijayani now is to make the most of the best practices she learnt at the future competitions.