On the ITF Futures circuit they call him the Bandit, a reference to his unique ability to slip out of trouble during the point by hitting an unexpected shot, followed by a wide grin like the cat that got the cream. His real name is Christopher Rungkat and he is the number one tennis player for Indonesia.
For the past three years, Rungkat has led the Indonesian team in Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. Recently, he went into the Asia/Oceania Group II tie against Thailand riding a wave of success that has seen him win three ITF singles and five doubles titles this year.
Although Indonesia has a population of 245 million, it’s not exactly a hotbed of tennis development at present. With only two current male players inside the Top 1000 (Rungkat at No. 475), being a big fish in a small pond can be both a blessing and a burden.
“First of all it is good to be number one in my country,” says Rungkat. “But it can also hurt at the same time by not having a rival because I feel that the competition at home will push me more. I feel like I do better when I have a rivalry. Plus, I am expected to win all the national tournaments which are not as easy as it might seem.”
By all accounts, Rungkat had a pretty solid junior career. He was selected to the ITF Touring Team in 2007/8 which proved to be a good decision when he and ITF teammate Henri Kontinen captured the French Open junior doubles title in 2008.
“Being on the ITF junior teams was great,” says Rungkat. “I was surrounded by good players and great coaches all the time. It is not until you don’t have that support system that you can appreciate how valuable it is.”
“When I met him first time I was amazed by his unbelievable co-ordination, perception skills and very natural, but technically sound tennis skills,” says Frank Zlesak, Rungkat’s ITF Touring Team coach.
“He was not only a great doubles partner for Ricardas Berankis but he was also a fantastic sparring partner for him. I really liked these two boys very much. Then he won the French Open junior doubles with Kontinen and I have never seen better junior doubles team in all my years of junior tennis.”
Making the transition from juniors to the professional ranks was not so smooth for Rungkat. He admits that he could have used more than just rivals back home. He also lacked maturity.
“Looking back, I can see where I made my mistakes,” states Rungkat. “Maybe I was not mature enough to commit one hundred percent to the training on and off the court. No excuses, all my fault.”
Rungkat has had no shortage of people who have believed in his potential. Thailand’s Sanchai and Sonchat Ratiwatana once invited Rungkat to join them when they were at the time a Top 50 doubles team on the ATP Tour.
The twins welcomed Rungkat as a younger brother and allowed him to join them at tournaments as a sparring partner so he could see what it was like on tour. The experience was priceless as they showed Rungkat not only how to act and train like a professional but also the finer points of doubles play.
“Bandit is an excellent doubles player,” states Sanchai Ratiwatana. “His instincts at the net are incredible. He always had talent for doubles, but now his singles has improved so much. He can do well in both singles and doubles if he stays focused and keeps up the hard work that he has done the past year.”
That is something that Zlesak agrees with. “As a junior he was much better in doubles because lacked power due to his poor general and specific dynamic strength,” says Rungkat’s former coach.
“Also his baseline game was too predictable. So the average effectiveness of his baseline game, under average fitness and also his poor match preparation hurt him. The key to his current success in singles is probably that he has improved in all these areas including and most importantly, attitude.”
Robert Ballard is the strength and conditioning coach on the ATP Tour and has also worked for Tennis Indonesia where he has trained Rungkat for nearly three years now.
“Over the past 12 months I have seen a significant change in his approach to tennis,” claims Ballard. “A more progressive attitude to his physical training. He still has a way to go but it is already showing promise of better things to come. His recent rise in singles is a direct result of a professional attitude and work ethic.”
“In the past, I did not like the pressure of so many people telling me that I had talent and would do better if I only worked harder,” confesses Rungkat. “It was like, ok, what happens if I do work hard and still lose? Would they still have believed in me? Now, I have accepted that they were right in telling me the truth. Nobody likes to be criticised, but sometimes the truth hurts.”
In the case of Christopher Rungkat, maybe hearing the truth helped too.