With career changes to her game, Karman Kaur Thande is looking to put her injury-stricken days behind

Karman Kaur Thandi was on the verge of being the biggest event in Indian women’s tennis. In August 2018, she was ranked 196th best singles player when she was just 20 years old, the sixth Indian woman to top the WTA top 200.

But a grueling combination of injuries and pandemic sports shutdowns made her lose a good chunk of her three years. Now 23, Thandie is still aging, and with a strong desire bolstered by biomechanical changes in her game to prevent injury, she is preparing for another comeback in the ITF – lower class tennis circuit.

“The past couple of years have been tough in terms of fitness and Covid. It’s tough when you keep getting injured and when you come back, do all the right things, step on the field and play matches and you’re back in square one. That’s the most frustrating part,” Tandy told ESPN.

The current world number 478 is set to play the ITF 25K event in Chiang Rai, Thailand this week, her first match since retiring at a similar level in February. This was just another in a series of mid-match retirements that were forced into injury. The most recent was in Pune last December and perhaps the most annoying of the 2019 Miami Open qualifiers, after being given a wildcard for the mandatory WTA Premier Championship.

Two of those are in the span of a few months at the end of last year, after a final round in Italy which should have been a turning point. It turns out that the last round made things worse.

“It started with an injury to my shoulder, then in the last tournament I played in Italy I pulled my abs in the quarter-finals. [But] I continued because I was in good shape. I pushed myself and ended up aggravating the injury. It took several weeks to recover from that but when you push your body another part is affected. It was my shoulder and then the elbow as well, so it was the last tournament I retired because of my elbow. It was really painful because after that I couldn’t do basic everyday things like lifting a spoon.”

Thandie and her longtime coach Aditya Sachdeva said they have now identified and corrected the root cause of the string of injuries. They’ve worked with physiotherapists and fitness coaches and have changed a few things functionally with her game, which will be properly tested in the coming weeks.

“It was the same series that wasn’t working properly that we were now able to diagnose,” said Sachdeva, Technical Director at RoundGlass Tennis Academy, on the sidelines of the academy’s first induction program where Thandie was also present.

“Certain parts of the body did not function in the biomechanical chain, causing other parts to overcompensate resulting in injury. We went through the entire motor chain and now ensure that all parts of the body reach all parts of the body. Limits.”

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

Thandie said that she kept herself motivated throughout her audition times by doing other things she loves like reading and yoga. Her family also confirmed that she remained positive. “What I can do at this point is give it 100%. It’s under my control, the things I can’t control, I don’t give it much attention or power. This is very important.”

And her goal for the rest of the year is wisdom: to keep competing, stay healthy, and manage play consistently even if injuries occur. “Injuries are part of a player’s life, so it’s not like it’s going to happen again. But if it does, recovery won’t take long. And also the ranking, in my opinion, if I’m 400, it will soon be 250.”

“I just want her to stay injury-free and compete,” Sachdeva added in a more honest assessment. “We know its potential, it hit 190 about three years ago, and then injuries started creeping in.”

If Thandie can indeed stay fit and competitive for the next few months to raise her rankings high enough, there is a chance that she will be the future of Indian women’s tennis once again.