Modern tennis is not only about skill. It is also about fitness of the highest order. To be on the tour week after week takes an enormous toll on the body of the player. Not only that, when he is on the court he needs to rip his serve and ground strokes, slide, turn, stretch and make the body do all possible things. Thus modern players not only need to be explosive but need to do it for a consistently long amount of time. Thus the role of a strength and conditioning trainer becomes so very crucial for a player. No wonder we often see a budding player opt for a travelling fitness trainer over a coach.
One such individual doing a yeoman`s service to these tennis players of India is Gaurav Nijhon. I caught up with him after another day that winds up only by late evening.
ME. Thanks Gaurav for your time. So finally managed to catch you.
Gaurav Nijhon. Yes it has been one hell of a week. I have been travelling with Arjun Kadhe for back to back ITF tournaments in the country.
ME. I know. But I am sure it has been a satisfying one as Arjun won one of the titles and twice reached the finals on two other occassions. Also he did very well in doubles too.
Gaurav Nijhon. Yes it was quite satisfying to see Arjun doing well. To play professional tennis with competitive guys straight from College Tennis, you need time to settle down. However Arjun is picking up quite well and as you can see that within a year, he is already close to 400 on the ATP.
ME. So what are the things that you are doing differently with Arjun?
Gaurav Nijhon. Arjun had got a good base at Oklahama State University. However to compete at College Tennis level and at professional tennis are two different things. Thus to his credit he has adjusted quite well. Progression is key to any fitness regime. So I made him take a few extra loads to build his power. For example, I made him do weighted pull ups which was a progress from normal body weight pull ups.
Also for a tall guy like Arjun, agility could often be a problem. Thus a lot of focus was on his on court agility. I made him do lateral and linear movements aided by acceleration and deceleration techniques.
Arjun Kadhe doing weighted Pull Ups under the watchful eyes of Gaurav Nijhon
ME. How do you prepare him during his matches and tournaments.
Gaurav Nijhon. For any player proper warm up is essential. Thus just before his matches, I will make him do ball drill. I also used resistance bands to loosen him.
At times, we did not have access to Gyms during tournaments. Resistance band was always a great way to ensure that he is not losing on his strength.
ME. And how was your Fed Cup experience with all the top Women players of the country?
Gaurav Nijhon. Oh it was a tremendous experience more so because it was my first time with the team. I went there as individual trainers for Ankita Raina and Rutuja Bhosale. Having said so if there was any help to be extended to the other team members, I would do that as they were all part of the same team. It was especially satisfying with the way Ankita won all her individual matches including her victory against top 100 Yulia Putintseva from Kazakasthan.
ME. So in a situation where you have different players how do you train them? I mean what different methods you have for different players?
Gaurav Nijhon. Different players have different body types. If some can move fast then some others can have explosive strength. Different bodies tend to behave differently while accelerating and absorbing force. Thus a lot of sports science is involved. Also it depends on the age of a player. For example for a player who is already 28 years-old, I will not risk doing new exercises as it might risk his body. Depending on a players body type and age, I will give the sort of exercises. Thus it is very important to understand the strength and weakness of a player.
Ankita Raina, India`s No.1 Women`s Singles player training under Gaurav Nijhon
” Training for tennis does not mean doing endless change of direction drills on court. There is a strong need for our players to learn fundamental skills of running, jumping and lifting weights safely and effectively”, Gaurav sums it up.
ME. How about the diet? Do you also keep a tab of the players` diet.
Gaurav Nijhon. I do chart out a diet plan for my players. For example frequent sweets are not allowed. Also a player has to follow different diet plans during different times. During training it is more of muscle mass. I make them take more of carbohydrates and electrolyte before training.
Again there are different diet plans during and after a tournament. Post the tournament, I make them take more proteins.
As for calorie count, it is often difficult when one is travelling for tournaments and hence I recommend them eating by the size of their hand. The size of the hand is proportionate to the size of the body and it stays like that. Thus the hand size is a great way of measuring the quantity of food to take. For example, for men his two palm sized portions will be about 40-60 gms of proteins.
ME. How about supplements? Are they safe?
Gaurav Nijhon. They are safe as long as they fall under WADA guidelines. Thus it is important to have knowledge about the same. In case one is not sure of the contents, it can be sent to ITF and they will come back with the feedback.
Often a player cannot consume 6 eggs a day, he will have 4 eggs day and then will try to compensate the rest with supplement. However nothing like having natural food.
ME. It is generally said that Europeans and Americans are naturally stronger than us. In that case how is it possible to bring our growing kids to their level?
Gaurav Nijhon. With better approach to training the desired results can still be achieved. Here in India young players are only asked to run as the only form of exercise. We have to understand that a player has both a biological and chronological age. Going by the limb length formula a young player`s chronological age can be found out. Thus for a guy whose biological age may be 12 years but his chronological age may be 16 years. Thus for this player, he can be put in an advanced training judiciously.
ME. So tell me how did this exciting journey start?
Gaurav Nijhon. Well it started about 5 years back. It started when I first had the opportunity to work with Purav Raja and that was kind of a break for me. Then I worked with Sandeep Kirtane`s academy for about a year. Since then there has been a gradual progress. I now work with the players at PYC Hindu Gymkhana who coaches under Hemant Bendrey Sir and Bounce Sports Academy under Kedar Shah. As Ankita Raina and Rutuja Bhosale both train under Hemant Sir so I also got to train these top Women players.
ME. So apart from tennis players, who else do you manage?
Gaurav Nijhon. I manage a few badminton players too.
ME. And how different is it to manage these two sets of players?
Gaurav Nijhon. Both badminton and tennis requires same kind of intense training. In badminton players at times absorb more pressure on the wrist and ankle while in tennis the shoulder has a huge role to play. Badminton is about explosive power but the good thing about badminton is that it is played indoors unlike tennis 😊
ME. Well that really is a long and meaningful CV for you. Thank you so much for your time and may you keep on taking good care of our players.
Gaurav Nijhon. Thanks to you also and do keep on promoting Indian Tennis.