Stephen Koon, training some of the best in Asia

Despite no dearth of academies in India, a bunch of players reach Nonthaburi in Thailand to train under Stephen Koon, the Director of Impact Tennis Academy.

Stephen Koon (centre) with with two-time national champion Riya Bhatia (left) and the former Asian junior champion Pranjala Yadlapalli. Photo: Special Arrangement

Stephen Koon is very familiar with some of the best players of Indian tennis, like Yuki Bhambri and Pranjala Yadlapalli.

After all, despite no dearth of academies in India, a bunch of players reach Nonthaburi in Thailand to train under Koon, the Director of Impact Tennis Academy.

Initially, it was the pre-season training for the best in Asia, in which Yuki was a regular, along with the likes of Hyeon Chung of South Korea, Di Wu of China, etc., that made the place famous.

Now, the academy with indoor and outdoor courts, apart from two clay courts of European standard, with an elaborate gymnasium spread over three floors, has made it most convenient for the players in the region.

Riya Bhatia, Dev Javia, Yuvan Nandal, Agriya Yadav, are regulars. Others like Sacchitt Sharma, Zeel Desai, Rutuja Bhosale, Saumya Vig, Mahak Jain, Snehal Mane, Ashmitha Easwaramurthi, Jennifer Luikham and Mihika Yadav have got a taste of the place and the training methods.

‘A base for Asian professionals’

“One of our goals was to be a base for Asian professionals. So, some come during tournaments or just before. Some leave. Some have fortunately realised the value in what we do. We make a plan and become part of their team, which hopefully will help them reach their dreams,” Stephen Koon, who was born in Australia and has worked with Nick Bollettieri and IMG in the U.S, said.

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Koon also has the rich experience of having coached in Singapore, Malaysia, Spain and Australia before settling in Thailand. Among many star players, he has worked with Kevin Anderson of South Africa as well. “You have to find the right chemistry with the player and their parents to form the team. We do our best and we are honest with everyone that comes,” he said.

Yuki is eloquent in praise for the coach, for his sincerity and hard work. Nick Bollettieri commends him highly for his “work ethic” and a strong character that make him an ideal guide. On his part, Koon assures that all his players in his academy would have “right attitude, work hard enough and will know what they need to do to get better.”

‘Don’t be unrealistic’

To have big dreams is great, but Koon wants the players to be realistic as well. “I just don’t want players to pursue unrealistic dreams and get stuck at 25, with no money and no education. Still, it is up to them and their parents,” he said.

Among many stars, Stephen Koon has worked with South Africa's Kevin Anderson (in picture). Photo: AP

 

He points out that tennis offers many options, and everyone playing the game need not aim to become a professional, which is the case with most players. “Not making it to the top 100 doesn’t mean you are a failure in life. I am happy to help everyone be the best they can be and have a great character to have a successful life,” he said.

The potential of the players and their ability to absorb the lessons and improve is the key to their progress. “Just because I have trained and travelled with 12 top-100 players does not mean that I can make everyone top 100,” he explained.

‘Make good habits’

Looking at the Indian juniors, he hits the nail on the head with his observation. “It starts with the mentality of the players, coaches, fitness trainers and the parents. Every day, every session, every ball should have a purpose. Everyone in the team has to be accountable and responsible. The goal, priorities and message to the player must be consistent. Win or improve. Good professional fundamentals of physical preparation, development, rehabilitation, sound technique and intelligent shot selection, development of weapon, enjoyment of competition and pressure, make good habits,” he remarked.

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The business is not the main area of concern at Impact. “We turn players away, we send them home. Doing it right is more important than making more money. We are not normal,” he stressed.

The eagerness to train hard may lead to over training and injuries, despite the presence of experts and their ability to monitor every player. However, Koon counters by saying that it is not the case with the Indian players, as they “under train and don’t have basic foundation!”

 

“A lot of them at the start can’t handle the physicality and intensity. If you want your dream bad enough to work for it, I think it is fine,” he said.

Honest approach

There is a bit of an honest and straight approach in Koon which may not be easy to digest for some players. “If you have something weak that needs to be rectified, we will tell you. Maybe, you don’t like that. But, I think it is better we tell you and start fixing it than you lose another match because of that weakness,” he pointed out.

It is natural that every player is happy to hear the good things about him or her. “Who doesn’t like to hear how good they are or that they can make it to be a top-100 in professional tennis, even though they are not even top 50 in their country,” questioned Koon.

Both Yuki and Pranjala may be injured at the moment, but Koon is confident that they would be back to the circuit stronger. “Yuki is doing everything he can. He just needs to find the right treatment. It is a bit more complicated than a regular patellar (that Nadal had and came back from). In the meantime, Yuki has beefed up his upper body,” he said.

He expects the young Pranjala to be quick with her recovery. “If a 19-year-old girl over-worked and got injured, I would say that is learning. She and Yuki will be back and have their best years ahead of them,” he said.