With functional changes to her game, Karman Kaur Thandi looks to put injury-plagued days behind her

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Karman Kaur Thandi was poised to be the next big thing in Indian women’s tennis. In August 2018, she reached a career-best singles rank of 196 when she was just 20, only the sixth Indian woman to have cracked the top 200 of the WTA.

But a cruel combination of injuries and the pandemic sports shutdown saw her lose a good part of three years. Now 23, Thandi still has age on her side, and with her strong desire reinforced by biomechanical changes to her game for injury prevention, she is gearing up for another comeback on the ITF circuit – the lower rung of the tennis grind.

“The last couple of years have been tough in terms of fitness and Covid. It’s a tough when you keep getting injured and just when you are getting back to recovery, doing all the right things, you step on the court, play a couple of matches and you are back to square one. That is the most frustrating part,” Thandi told ESPN.

The current world No 478 is set to play the ITF 25K event at Chiang Rai, Thailand this week, her first match since a retirement at a similar level in February. This was just another in a series of injury-forced mid-match retirements. The most recent being in Pune last December and perhaps the most upsetting being in the 2019 Miami Open qualifiers, after getting a wildcard for the WTA Premier Mandatory tournament.

Two of these in the span of a few months at the end of last year, after a final run in Italy which should have been a turning point. Turns out, it was the final run that made things worse.

“It started with injuring my shoulder, then at the last tournament I played in Italy, I pulled by abs in the quarterfinal. [But] I continued because I was in good form. I pushed myself and I ended up worsening the injury. It took some weeks to recover from that but whenever you are pushing your body, some other part is affected. My shoulder and then the elbow were, so the last the tournament I retired was because of my elbow. It was really painful because after I was not able to do basic everyday things like lifting a spoon,” she said.

Thandi and her long-time coach Aditya Sachdeva say they have now identified and rectified the root cause for the series of injuries. They have worked with physiotherapists and fitness trainers and have functionally changed a few things with her game, which will be properly tested in the coming weeks.

“It was the same chain which was not working correctly which we have now managed to diagnose,” Sachdeva, the Technical Director at the RoundGlass Tennis Academy, said on the sideline of the academy’s first induction program where Thandi was also present.

“Certain body parts in the biomechanical chain weren’t working, which was causing the other parts to overcompensate which was leading to the injury. We went through the entire kinetic chain and now are ensuring that all the body parts are coming through on all the strokes.”

Will these changes affect her big serve and forehand, which are her strengths? “Let’s just wait and see, you may find it’s a bigger serve and forehands,” Sachdeva said with a smile.

Thandi said she kept herself motivated throughout the testing times by doing other things she liked such as reading and yoga. Her family also ensured she stayed positive. “What I can do at this point is give my 100%. That is under my control, the things that I cannot control, I do not give too much attention or power to it. That is very important.”

Just as wise is her goal for the rest of the year: to sustain at the competitions, stay healthy and manage playing continuously even if injuries occur. “Injuries are a part of a player’s life so it’s not like it’s ever going to happen again. But if it does, recovery shouldn’t take too long. Also the ranking, in my mind, if I am 400, it would be around 250,” she said.

“I just want her to stay injury free and compete,” Sachdeva added in an even more honest assessment. “We know her potential, she has reached 190-odd about three years back and then the injuries started creeping in.”

If Thandi can indeed stay fit and compete for the next few months to push her ranking high enough, there is a chance she can be the future of Indian women’s tennis again.

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