McEnroe, Roddick to Cilic, Kadhe’s got the jackpot!

Arjun Kadhe, the Pune youngster who broke into the Tata Open Maharashtra as a wild card entrant, wants to soak in experience and exuberance from champions at the ATP 250 event starting December 30.

Kadhe will land at the event on the back of his first ever Futures title, where he beat Australian Andrew Harris 7-5, 6-3 in the final.   -  Special Arrangement

“I met John McEnroe and Andy Roddick in Georgia in early 2016. Roddick is my favourite of all time. I just told them how big a fan I was. We had a quick chat on the game.” Arjun Kadhe — the rising tennis talent from India — was playing a university match in the next few minutes; in front of the legends. “It was great fun,” Kadhe is never under pressure.

As expected, he didn’t take long to break into the top wing of Indian tennis. The wild card entry into the Tata Open Maharashtra is the newest feather to his cap. The top ranked player (610) in Maharashtra got the nod along with Yuki Bhambri and Ramkumar Ramanathan.

Read: Maharashtra Open aims to pitch for Djokovic, Murray in 2019

Kadhe will land at the event on the back of his first ever Futures title, where he beat Australian Andrew Harris 7-5, 6-3 in the final. The event was held on the hard court at the Thu Dau Mot City in Vietnam.

But moving from Futures to ATP 250 will be challenging for the Pune lad. After the first day’s training at the Balewadi Stadium in Pune, Kadhe told Sportstar, “I am trying to get a sense of the conditions. The difference of level is the biggest challenge for me. But it is a good opportunity to asses where I want to be in a couple of years from now. I want to observe how top players prepare and soak in as much I can from them; both on and off the court.”

The ATP event in Pune will be his fifth stop in the last few months — after Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt and Doha. But the youngster wasn’t expecting a call-up. “I don’t know how it happened. I think my performance in the last two months helped. I suddenly broke into the top rank in Maharashtra and fortunately, the tournament moved to Pune, which could have worked in my favour. But my ranking speaks for itself too,” he added.

Also read: ‘Brand Chennai Open helped bag top players’

The MSLTA authorities and Prashant Sutar (Tournament Director) had kept an eye on Kadhe’s progress.

However, Kadhe isn’t going overboard with training. “I am playing smart. I am only looking at specific things, rather than adding to the volume of training. I am feeling the ball well, focusing on my fitness and taking enough rests.”

But he is eager for a trial knock with the champions. “Leander (Paes) will be here, along with Divij Sharan; practising with them will be a good lesson too. You get to learn a lot and improve,” reasoned Kadhe, who is also looking forward to meet World No 6 Marin Cilic — the magnet of the event. “He is also a tall guy and an aggressive player. I will end up watching all his matches. It is all about the way he moves. A Grand Slam champion is always a treat to watch. It will be great if I get to train a bit with him too.”

For better assessment, Kadhe and his coach, Hemant Bendrey, set targets in advance. Three years ago, tennis took him to Oklahoma State University — for sports as well as education — and on return, the target for the youngster was to sneak into the top 600-700 from zero point. “I achieved it by the end of this year. We will assess the new target after this tournament,” he informed.

Before heading to the change room, he reiterated: “The whole approach towards singles in tennis is changing in India. There are more players. A group of 20-22-year-olds are knocking on the top.”

At 18, Kadhe had played the qualifying round of the Indian ATP event (earlier called Chennai Open), but he lost to Kenny De Schepper in the first round.