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Sriram Balaji: “To be at the Olympics would be a dream come true”

Sriram Balaji smiles after his interview with CLAY in Paris / SEBASTIÁN FEST
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PARIS – Like fine wines, Indian Sriram Balaji ‘s tennis career is improving as the years go by: he is in the third round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in his life, and his idea is not to stop there.

‘My goal is to get inside the top 20’, Balaji said in an interview with CLAY in Paris, where he is playing the French Open. The 34-year-old Indian is playing for a place in the Olympics, next month also in Paris, with compatriot Rohan Bopanna deciding whether to choose him as his partner or Yuki Bhambri.

– This is your best result in a Grand Slam, what does it mean?

– Yeah, always like second round was always my best and this is my best year now.

– And how do you feel?

– Like two days ago I was not even in the tournament and I’m feeling great and I’m lucky that I got into the tournament and like both of us were just taking one match at a time, so we have no pressure to lose, you know. We were alternates. So we were waiting like fourth out, so there were like so many pullouts and then we replaced them.

– And if you hadn’t played here, you had taken a train or a plane to some other place or what was the plan?

– This week anyway I was just going to try my luck and now since I moved to week two, then next week my plan was to go to Prostejov and play a challenger. Now since I moved to the second week, I’m cancelling that. 

– You should cancel it!

– Yeah. I’m going to be here, yeah (laughs).

– The fact you also have Rohan Bopanna playing here and he’s looking about who’s going to share with him the doubles in the Paris Games. Do you feel like you have one and a half foot in the Olympic Games right now after the third round?

– I still feel like it’s, in addition it’s going to be from him. There is also Yuki Bhambri who is ranked higher than me and I’m just behind him now. So, whatever Bopanna decides, it’s, you know, I have to respect him and I have no comments, you know. I’ll be happy if he selects me, very happy, more than happy. But if he doesn’t select me also, I’m okay, you know.

– Have you ever been to the Olympic Games before? 

– No. No. This would be the first time.

– This is something you really desire.

– Yes. Yeah. It will be a dream come true but I don’t want to have too many expectations at the same time. Then, if Yuki goes, I’ll be happy also, you know. Yeah. 

– To play singles is not anymore an option for you at this age, isn’t it?

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Right now, no, because I’m just focusing only on doubles. I stopped playing singles like five years ago maybe. I wanted to focus more on doubles because I just thought like I had a lot of limitations in my singles game. So, to break the top 100 was difficult for me. And I knew my game would suit better for doubles and I could be, you know, top 50 in doubles. So…

– Top 50, that’s the idea?

– I mean, eventually my goal is to get inside the top 20. But I knew I could get in the top 50 in doubles for sure, you know.

– And you’re close to it. 

– Yeah. I mean, after this win, maybe I think I’ll be 66 or something.

– You are 34 years old now but Zeballos, the Argentinian who’s the number one is around 40. González, the Mexican, 41.

– Bopanna is also 44 now! So, I still have a lot of time, you know, and also doubles is like if you have a lot of experience, you play better, you know. But let’s see how far I can go and, you know.

– There is a tennis tradition in India, you have had players, like Ramesh Krishnan and the Amritraj brothers. But now you don’t really have single players. Why?

– We are lacking a lot of singles players. We are just having like one top 100 player like every one or two years, you know. Now we have just Sumit (Nagal) and before that we had Prajnesh and Yuki was also a singles player. He was in the top 100 also, you know. And before that Somdev was there, you know. We’re just having like just one player every time. We don’t have like a second or third player, you know. I don’t want to say that the infrastructure is not there in India. It’s just the system is not there, you know. Because you need a lot of patience, a lot of, you know, support from everyone. And I just feel the system is not right for singles right now in India. And for doubles we have like a program right now running. It’s called Doubles Dream of India, you know. There’s a private sponsor for it and Rohan Bopanna is helping, mentoring the program. And they are supporting all the doubles players in India. With providing a coach, providing a physio and trainer to the tournaments. Even in this tournament we have a coach and we have a trainer traveling with just me and Yuki. So, that is helping a lot. If something like that can happen in singles we could see a lot of. And because tennis is an expensive sport. It is. And this sponsor is taking care of their expenses. For us it’s great. Because otherwise we have to call somebody as a coach and we have to pay them. And doubles we don’t make so much money. So, it’s going to be very expensive. And I’m really thankful for that Doubles Dream Project.

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– Why did they create a doubles program and not a singles one, do you know?

It just started like two years ago maybe. And already we were like 10 players inside the top 200 maybe. And in singles we just had like two players inside 250 or 300. We don’t have so many players. But the main idea behind the sponsor, which is a software company, KPIT, and Mr. Kishore Patil… Their main idea is to get an Olympic medal. In doubles is much closer than in singles. So, that was his main idea. So, he started this.

– India is the most populous country in the world, what’s the situation with the young kids? Do they want to play tennis or do they prefer, I don’t know, cricket, football?

Obviously, tennis is not the first main sport in India right now because we have cricket, badminton. That is the first sport for all the Indians. But right now and especially this year after Bhopanna becoming world number one, after he won the Australian Open, a lot of kids started playing. And a lot of players who are already playing, they have some confidence. They feel like, okay, they can also do it. It’s like a motivation factor for a lot of players in India.

– And because of this Bopanna effect, do the kids like trying to play doubles or do they play singles?

There are players trying to become doubles now. But they also like tennis as a sport and it’s becoming a little bit bigger now, you know.

– What’s your interest besides tennis? Did you want to be a cricket player? Did you want to play something else? Or you always wanted to play tennis?

– No, I’ve been always like a sports enthusiast. So I would have… If not tennis, I would have chosen some other sport but definitely into sports.

– Which sport?

– I mean, when I was in school, like I was playing soccer, I was playing basketball, you know. I was a little bit playing cricket also but I was not a big fan of cricket. So definitely I wouldn’t have gone to cricket. My dad was a volleyball player. So maybe I could have gone, you know.

– You did play soccer.

It was just a school level, in the school, yeah.

– Do you have any opinion about Lionel Messi? Do you like him or you’re not that interested?

– Not like that. But I don’t… There are a lot of Indians who follow the English Premier League, you know, Bundesliga. But I’m not like it too much… I don’t follow soccer so much.

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If you liked this interview with Sriram Balaji, don’t miss, in this link to our site, many other interviews to the great protagonists of tennis.

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One Reply to “Sriram Balaji: “To be at the Olympics would be a dream come true””

  • Nid A

    Bopanna is going to choose? shouldnt it just be the two highest ranked players? does the highest ranked get to play favorites or is SB mistaken in this interview? He had to play LLs… everyone knows he doesnt belong in the RG pre-q or even olympics. This is the 3rd article implying he will play. No wonder indian tennis never get medals, politics and contacts matter more than merit. Himself he says YB was even singles top 100 where he wasnt good enough. Hoping to see the deserving ranked players represent the country, and not politics ruin any chance of medals.

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