Image Credits: @JenniferLuikham
As far as hype and anticipation go in watching someone play tennis, Jennifer Luikham of Manipur is at the top of the list.
Sometimes, Indian women’s tennis don’t get as much respect as it should due to being overshadowed by the overwhelmingly excellent men’s singles and doubles players over the years. Still, in each generation, India have produced quality women players, from Saina Mirza to Ankita Raina.
Jennifer Luikham could be next in line. Fierce, passionate and relentless, she is nothing we haven’t seen before, but that does not take any qualities away from her. What makes Jennifer like a plant Peace Lily you just can’t kill, and a person that everyone adore, is the competitive spirit and enthusiasm that simmers just below the sweet surface.
Her hard-hitting and aggressive style of play combined with her relentless pursuit for success can certainly make the 21-year-old the future star of Indian Women’s tennis, and for those who haven’t gotten a glimpse of her, don’t forget to check her out here – as she describes the sacrifices, she has made for being a tennis player and why they are all worthwhile. You won’t regret it.
You are very young and have quite a few titles under your belt, and I am sure it must have been a quite whirlwind journey, so tell us about how did you first get into Tennis? What are your first memories about the time when you knew this would be something you pursued?
It has indeed been a one-of-a-kind journey! I started tennis exclusively for fitness and sports engagement. I have an early recollection of being on the court for one-hour practice sessions with my friends and two elder brothers, who at the time served as fierce competitors. I can’t trace back to a moment in time which made me certain of taking on Tennis professionally.
I don’t believe it exists. It was an accumulation of fun that I had playing the sport which made me stick. I loved being on the court, making new friends, cheering my lungs out, the thrilling competitive spirit of the sport and the travel that came along with it.
Who were your first tennis heroes? What was significant about their achievements or character that you admired?
Justin Henin and Kim Clijsters were my inspiration. I have always enjoyed watching their game and interviews. However, more importantly, I admire their humble gestures on and off court. They have had a lasting impact on me.
We all know that you are successful in your sport. But the first win and the first trophy is always special. Do you remember your 1st success as a tennis player? If yes, how will you describe that moment?
It is a funny little cute memory. My first win was at a club tournament organized by my academy. I won the singles category for u-8 and u-10. I recall being super exhilarated after my first win. I was beaming with joy. I was naive at the time. I believed I could be a champion like Henin just by winning such tournaments.
I was applauded for my win, aggressive game and fitness. It was a feeling I never experienced anywhere else. The overwhelming joy, pressure of playing my peers and the adrenaline rush was unreal.
Where do you train now and who is your coach now?
I train at the Siri Fort Sports Complex, New Delhi. Aditya Sachdeva sir has been my coach and mentor for the past 12 years.
Tennis on an elite pathway requires dedication and commitment; aside from providing funding and transport for training, how did your parents support you emotionally pre-competition?
They have been my backbone. A supporter in my times of crisis. A cheerleader in times of success. They don’t hail from a sports background. It wasn’t easy for them. We have strived together, learned together and grown together as a family. We have come a long way. I am blessed.
Pre-competition – my father helps me calm my nerves and reiterates, “forget winning and losing, go out there and do your thing. Play your game.” Mother ignites the fierce in me and pumps me up by instructing me to “fight like a true Naga”.
How would you describe your playing style, and which player would you compare it to?
Fierce, passionate and relentless.
Are you good in your studies as well? If yes, how do you manage sports and studies? How’s your school/college been supportive towards it?
As much as I would like to believe I am good at studies – I am not.
Tennis has been a priority and I have been fortunate to have a school that nurtured and supported my endeavours in Tennis tremendously by being flexible with academic guidelines and letting me fair just taking the main exams. I am grateful to my school. College has been a relative relief. I am under an open college system. It is not stressful.
What have been your major highlights/achievements in tennis?
I am yet to achieve a major achievement.
Tennis requires a high level of endurance and stamina. What do you do to raise your endurance and stamina levels?
I work on my stamina through agility endurance drills and improving on the beep test.
What’s the toughest aspect of being a tennis player and what do you enjoy the most about it?
Even if a person reaches the pinnacle, there is always scope for improvement. And in sports, you should improve daily. A healthy competition or rivalry often helps a sportsperson to improve. So, who is that tennis player with whom you have a healthy rivalry?
Any funny or remarkable instances during a match/practice that you remember?
It cracks me up every time I think about it. I was a junior playing doubles, standing confidently, ready to take on the volley. A ball hit my face and the impact made me feel like I had lost a tooth or two, making half of my lip go numb. The anxiety hit me really bad. I was red-faced and awkward. It took me a while to reach out to my partner and check with her on the condition of my tooth. It was a relief to learn it was intact. Funny times.
Imagine you were to be awarded the ATP Award for things done in your private life, what would you receive for it?
For being a DIVA (not a potential one).
Federer or Nadal?
Finally, what goals have you set for the years? And for the next years of your college and beyond?
I aspire to take on multiple tournaments the coming year. I am prioritizing Tennis over college for the time. I am committed to playing Tennis professionally. I plan on allocating my time and efforts in improving my game through rigorous training and playing tournaments.