From Serve to Volley – Nirupama Vaidyanathan
First an ace tennis player, now a mentor who trains and nurtures youngsters out of Niru’s Tennis Academy in Santa Clara, California; ever since she retired from the competitive aspect of the sport, Coimbatore girl Nirupama Vaidyanathan, who at one time was the poster-girl for Indian tennis, has trained more than 3000 enthusiasts of the game along with her brother KV Ganesh at their acclaimed academy in the United States. We caught up with her on her visit to her home town to talk about her life post tennis, her book The Moonballer and her newest passion – a cooking blog.
Nirupama Vaidyanathan is the first Indian woman tennis player to have won a singles match in a Grand Slam at Australia in 1998. She won the gold medal in the mixed doubles category in the SAF Games when she partnered with her cousin KG Ramesh. She went on to win bronze while partnering with Mahesh Bhupathi at the Asian Games in Bangkok in 1998. She has played with Sania Mirza, Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes at the Commonwealth Games. For over a decade this dynamic lady was ranked number one in the country and now, continues to strive to keep the sanctity and pleasure of playing tennis alive with her tennis academy in California.
She began playing tennis as a child with her father KS Vaidyanathan and brother, and by the time she had reached her teens, thanks to her self-taught father who was also her coach, she began rising in the ranks of the game with her sheer grit and determination and the fact that she loved the sport. “When I reached Class X, my father advised me to play the game before dealing with my board exams. My father was a sportsperson himself and he played cricket for Tamil Nadu at the Ranji level. He used to attend training programmes for coaches in those days and used to apply those techniques with my brother and myself,” tells Nirupama, while recalling the past as we chat over a nice cup of filter coffee prepared by her mother Meenakshi Vaidyanathan.
The family are long time residents of Coimbatore for over a century. In fact K Narayana Sastri, Nirupama’s great grand uncle, was a proponent of the free library movement and co-founded the Coimbatore Cosmopolitan Club during the year 1891. The senior Vaidyanathans live in an apartment called Centre Court, aptly named after the famous tennis court connected with Wimbledon.
Her autobiography The Moonballer was published a few years ago. “Moonballer is a metaphor. Moonballing is not considered to be good for tennis. It is rallying for a long time in order to make your opponent blink and make an error. It is evolving from being a Moonballer to becoming an aggressive serve and volley player that makes life interesting. I wrote this book primarily to shed the myth surrounding women in sports. It was tennis legend Vijay Amritaraj who released this book and I have been a tournament commentator along with him on a number of occasions. I learnt much from other players like Ramanathan Krishnan, who was like an artist while on the tennis court. Steffi Graf was my role model,” states the determined lady.
She moved to the United States after her marriage and lives in Santa Clara with her husband Sanjiv who works in IT and daughter Sahana. While talking about her tennis academy in the US she happily shares the fact that about 20 of her students have progressed rapidly in playing categories and she divulges further, “Our academy uses about five centres in the heart of the Silicon Valley. Summers are really busy for it is then that we work all day. We offer a holistic approach where fitness and the game are evenly balanced. Parents are very happy to see their kids play good club class tennis and the onus is on them to encourage their children in sport. I am also in the process of writing my second book which I propose to name Sports Parenting or Parenting a Wimbledon Champ,” she tells.
“My parents game me everything that was needed and I could not have scaled these heights without their inputs. My father sacrificed his legal practice and hired a tennis court in order to train me and my mother was a pillar of support during those tough formative years. Parents of sporting kids must look beyond academics and I am really happy for this is beginning to happen in India more and more,” adds Nirupama.
A self-proclaimed foodie she has her own blog where she shares recipes that she gathers from her travels across the world, alongside some traditional Indian recipes as well. “It’s a food blog where I share mostly vegetarian recipes from around the world based on my travel experiences. I share the details of my discoveries with regard to food and its cultural background. My favourite is Cous Cous with a Ratatouille which I came across in the Moroccan quarter of Paris. Coimbatore’s famous Thenga Manga Pattani Sundal is also featured on my blog,” she tells with a smile. “Soon, I will be promoting Benevolent Bacon, a vegetarian substitute made of soy and tofu for the American company Sweet Earth Foods as their brand ambassador,” she adds. Her future plans include establishing an academy in Coimbatore that will focus on tennis philanthropy helping financially under privileged children with promise in the game to get necessary coaching, equipment and guidance. “Not everyone is fortunate and it is my turn to do something for the less fortunate which will in turn put Coimbatore on the tennis map of the world,” she says, signing off with flourish.