Ashwin Vijayaragavan tops South Australian tennis – again

How an Indian Davis Cup player became a performance coach in Australia

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35-year-old Ashwin Vijayaragavan was recently named South Australia’s 2022 State League tennis player of the year, the second year in a row the former tennis professional has taken out the prestigious honour. It’s the latest achievement in a remarkable career that has seen Ashwin reach heights that many tennis players dream of – dreams which Ashwin now aims to fulfil for juniors, through his Adelaide Rising Stars Tennis Academy.

Born in Doha, Qatar, Ashwin’s introduction to tennis was tenuous, at best. “It was just an extra-curricular activity for an hour,” he recalls. “We moved to India when I was 10, so I played a lot of cricket – because it’s India! So, tennis was nothing big for me.”

But as Ashwin started regularly watching his brother play tennis, cricket increasingly took a back seat. “My first coach [former Indian national player, Ilyas Ghouse] pushed me further into the game. I wasn’t the most talented compared to other kids my age, but my work ethic was up there with the best, and Ilyas enjoyed working with me,” says Ashwin.

Ashwin’s rise was rapid. By the age of 14, he was one of the top 5 players in India in his age group, and by 16, he was playing in the ITF World Tennis Tour junior circuit, including in the junior Australian Open in 2007 under the tutelage of Ganesh Raman, who Ashwin describes as a “father figure”.

Although grateful for his own opportunities, Ashwin’s assessment of India’s tennis system is frank: “The only thing working in India is doubles,” he says. “The notion is that no Indian can do well in singles. To my knowledge, we’ve only really had Leander Paes and Somdev Devvarman make it big.”

Ashwin Vijayaragavan
Ashwin was a hitting partner for Novak Djokovic, and also played Davis Cup for India in 2013 (Source: Supplied)

Ashwin does not put it down to a lack of facilities, or access to quality coaching – but a disjointed system that sees tennis facilities located 30 minutes away from fitness facilities. “It’s just how the system has always been, and the [All India Tennis Association] hasn’t been very helpful. It’s one of the reasons we can’t ever make a successful singles player,” he rues.

After finishing school, Ashwin earned a scholarship with the University of Texas, where he studied Finance while reaching a highest ranking of 46 in the NCAA, widely regarded as the best college sport system in the world. But it was about more than just tennis: “My parents thought I could benefit from that journey, and learn certain things without their help. In India, you always look up to someone to help, but that sense of independence is missing,” he acknowledges.

Turning pro at 21, at various stages Ashwin reached the top 500 in the world, was a hitting partner for Novak Djokovic, and was also selected in India’s 2013 Davis Cup tennis team.

“As a tennis player, that’s one of your biggest dreams. When I was just six years old, I got to hit with Leander Paes in Doha. I was stoked to be playing on the same Davis Cup team as him 15 years later,” recalls Ashwin.

“Playing in a team is always special – there are people cheering for you, someone is always telling you what to do, it automatically gives you energy,” he describes. “But when you’re playing tournaments by yourself, you feel lonely – you have to fight by yourself, and it’s very difficult to motivate yourself.”

A lower back injury plagued the latter half of Ashwin’s career, and in the notoriously gruelling ITF circuit, saw him ramp up his coaching career, beginning in Sri Lanka with the junior Davis Cup and briefly turning to the Middle East.

Ashwin Vijayaragavan
Performance coach Ashwin with some of his students (Source: Supplied)

It was only in 2016 that Ashwin arrived in Australia, to undertake a Masters in Sports Management at Deakin University. Later he moved to Adelaide with his partner Tania, where he took up a coaching job at Tea Tree Gully Tennis Club – which he credits to his mentor and club head coach Jason Todd. It was with Tania’s encouragement that Ashwin started playing for the club in select tournaments, and he has never looked back.

“Australia will always be very close to my heart. I did everything here without a lot of support, I had to build myself up. I wish I had this journey when I was a bit younger, but I’ve learned a lot in my time here – from being a player coach and now running a business of my own [the Adelaide Rising Stars tennis academy] training 60 or 70 kids. I felt like I was missing something before, but now I have my own identity,” he says proudly.

As a performance coach, Ashwin Vijayaragavan is better placed than most to pass on advice. His recommendation: “Don’t just get into tennis to become a champion. Enjoy it and play as much as you can, but the journey is huge – only 0.001% of people make it big. If you play only to become a champion, then you’re going to lose your way somewhere. Have fun, keep playing and then you never know what will happen.”

Read more: World Test Championship: India stumbles at the final hurdle – again

Ritam Mitra
Ritam Mitra
Ritam is an award-winning journalist and lawyer based in Sydney. Ritam writes on domestic and global politics, human rights and social justice, and sport.

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