Karan Rastogi is the Head Coach for the under 12 National training squad at the Hong Kong Tennis Association as well as a private coach for tennis players of all levels and ages.
Born and raised in Mumbai, Karan started playing tennis at the early age of 4 and has had numerous accolades. From being ranked No:1 in India in all age groups from under12 all the way to under18; ranking No: 1 in Asia under 14 and under 18 as well as No: 4 in the world in the under 18. He represented India from 2004-2011 in Davis Cup and played 2 Asian Games in 2006 and 2010 respectively, winning the Bronze medal in Guangzhou 2010.
In 2007 played against then world no.2 Rafael Nadal in the 2nd round of the ATP event in Chennai losing 6,4- 6,1.
Karan moved to Hong Kong in 2012, and has been the coach for the all the national teams, from U14 all the way to the men and women in the past 5 years. In fact, for the last two years, he has played in the Davis Cup for Hong Kong, winning promotion to Group 2 in Asia and winning the doubles and deciding singles match against Vietnam in February 2017.
We asked Karan Rastogi few questions about his career so far and his life in Hong Kong.
When did you first start playing tennis, and how did you know you wanted to become a professional player?
I first started playing tennis at the age of 4, it was just one of the few sports I played as a child growing up in Mumbai. Tennis was always the sport I enjoyed most though. As I started winning tournaments in my state and all over the country I realised I had some talent. When I was 11 my parents sent me to the Brittannia Amritraj Tennis Academy in Chennai which was sort of a tennis boarding school. That was about the time when I knew I wanted to be a professional tennis player.
Looking back at your formative years as a tennis player, what were some of the things you did that kept you on-track towards a professional career?
I think I was always a very disciplined child growing up. Always busy playing different sports even though tennis was my favourite. While my friends would be going to birthday parties I would be going to bed because I had to wake up at 5am the next morning for training. Doing this every day for years made me tough and kept me on track toward my goal of becoming a tennis professional. I would train from 6:30 to 8:30 am, school from 9-3:30pm, train again from 4-7pm after school. So, I had no time for anything other than tennis and school. That one-dimensional dedication is something that is very important if you want to be a professional athlete.
How involved were you parents in your career? Are they still involved?
They sacrificed more than most parents would. I remember always having one of my parents at my training, matches etc. They sacrificed their social life because they had to bring me back and wake up with me to take me for training. Their lives almost revolved around my tennis and I will always be grateful for their part in my career. I can say I inherited my discipline from my father as he was very big on that growing up and still is. Although now, I’m not playing as competitively as I used to, when I did play for HK in the last two years, he was still trying to make sure I was doing the right things.
Where do you find inspiration? Did your inspiration change with career?
Growing up I think my father was my biggest inspiration. He was the one driving force behind all those long hours of training. As I got older, I realised internal intrinsic inspiration is the most powerful inspiration. When you look inside and you enjoy what you do and are passionate about achieving your goals you don’t need to look outside for inspiration. And being an athlete in India you don’t really have too many people who truly help you or inspire you. It’s mostly either the family or within yourself.
How did you end up in Hong Kong? And how was the initial response of your students and tennis authorities in HK towards you?
I was coaching in India at the time and was looking for a change and looking to gain some experience abroad. The Hong Kong Tennis Association invited me over for a week-long stay initially. And we agreed to give this a shot for one year. That one year has now turned into almost 5 years. I do have family here in HK who have been here for many years so that was a plus. I think my students and authorities always respected me for what I had achieved as a player, but obviously it’s completely different being a coach. I feel quite settled now and very welcomed and appreciated by the players and the authorities.
What are some of the main differences with pursuing a tennis career in India and a city like Hong Kong?
The biggest difference is there is no system in place in India where players can thrive within. Government and corporations are not willing to invest in the youth and build something that’s sustainable. Most of the players from India have come through because of their own efforts or from their parents without any government support. In Hong Kong, the infrastructure and investment is there, but the culture is still very academic and not as much sport oriented, so a lot of the locals here are very well educated but not focused on developing world class athletes.
Tell us about tennis in Hong Kong. Are there any players we should watch out for?
Hong Kong has a few talented kids. Hong Kit Wong Jack is ranked No.1 Men’s player. He’s 19 years old and already has one of the best world rankings of any player from HK ever. His younger sister Wong Hong Yi Cody is No.1 Female junior player and was part of the team that won the Asian leg of U14 team championships and finished 5th in the world event. The best ever result for a HK team. Coleman Wong finished as a runner up at the Longines under 13 event in Paris.
Do you think Hong Kong is doing good when it comes to supporting sports, specially tennis?
I think they have a fantastic set up at the Hong Kong Sports Institute in Shatin. So the infrastructure is there and the HKTA is making a great effort in promoting the sport, but I feel there is always more that could be done in tennis in HK to develop world class athletes.
What are some of the advantages of being a tennis player in India than in Hong Kong? And vice versa?
India Positives: More competition, which also means more players to train with and more motivation, you have genuine role models in India like Sania Mirza, Leander Paes who have shown it can be done. Players growing up in tougher conditions making them tougher and more willing to make sacrifices needed to become a pro athlete.
India Negatives: Lack of infrastructure and finances to help you reach the top. Lack of leadership and system in place.
HK Positives: Infrastructure and finances are available if you’re talented. Government and association willing to invest.
HK Negatives: Not enough high quality players to practice with and push you. You need to travel abroad for better quality tournaments. There is a lack of genuine role models who have achieved something great in Hong Kong tennis to look up to. Kids grow up in a very protected environment and are not familiar with sacrifices needed to succeed as a professional athlete.
The 3 best things about being a professional tennis player?
- Since you have to play tournaments all over the world you get to travel and visit places you wouldn’t have otherwise. I have travelled to almost every part of the world because of tennis and have had experiences that will last with me a lifetime.
- You get to interact with various kinds of people from different cultures, it teaches you how to respect and understand different people better. It might not be a formal education but things you learn by meeting new people and being on your own, you don’t learn in a classroom.
- Sport generally teaches you resilience. teaches you how to lose and how to come back stronger after having a setback.
Best moments of your career?
- Playing against Rafael Nadal on centre court in the ATP event in Chennai. He is a legend and was live on tv with all my friends and family watching.
- My first call up to Indian Davis Cup team when I was only 17.
- Making a comeback into the Indian Davis Cup team after being out of the sport for almost 2 years due to a back operation. Achieved my highest ranking as well after coming from an injury layoff where I dint play tennis for more than 18 months. From June 2008 to December 2009 I was out of the sport.
Apart from work, what else do you like doing in Hong Kong?
Usually spend weekends my wife and friends. Maybe watch a movie, or go have a nice meal and drink somewhere, prefer the quieter evenings. I do enjoy a bit of bowling, or darts sometimes.
What are your plans in the near future?
We love Hong Kong and would like to stay here as long as possible, but since my wife is from LA, I can see us moving there at some point in our lives. You never know though!
Karan also answered some rapid fire questions below:
Favourite Tennis Player? – Roger Federer
Favourite Sports personality? – Usain Bolt and Michael Jordan.
Your favourite movie? – DDLJ
Favourite Indian restaurant in HK? – Bindaas Bar and Kitchen
You can follow Karan Rastogi’s tennis coaching and playing journey in Hong Kong on his Facebook Page here: