By Rahul Singh:
For a country like ours overwhelmed by prejudices, doing anything new is a fight in itself let alone succeed at it. One of these is “Padhoge likhoge hoge nawaab, kheloge kudoge hoge kharab!” Needless to say, pursuing sports as a career has never been easy in India. Thankfully, views have started to change in the last 10-15 years majorly due to exploits of our cricket team. For parents, success is directly proportional to monetary gains. It is ironic then, that a sport like tennis, where players make a fortune, is not a frequently adopted sports career although the sport itself is quite popular among the urban population of India!
It takes exceptional success stories to change the mindset of people as it happened for cricket when we won the world cup in 1983. For tennis the time came with the rise of Sania Mirza, although we have seen more successful exponents of the game earlier. Mirza might not be the most talented player on the women’s circuit but she showed the world that even with limited infrastructure, India can produce quality players. Obviously, the exorbitant media coverage helped a lot in taking her story to all parts of the country and making the game popular among young children and their parents. Of course we have the veteran duo of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupati carrying the mantle of Indian Tennis over the years making us proud by winning Grand Slams, but they were restricted to doubles and did not capture the nation’s imagination like Sania did.
Tennis was introduced in India by the British and tennis tournaments were popular since 1880s. As it is an expensive sport it was mostly followed by the elite class. But India’s first tennis legend was Vijay Amritraj whose exploits in the Grand Slams and Grand Prix events brought accolades and popularised the sport in India. Since televised media was not as active then, his fame was limited mostly to south India where most of our earlier players came from like Ramanathan Krishnan (even before Amritraj), Ramesh Krishnan, Mahesh Bhupati, et al. These players’ stories show that Indian players are more hindered by the lack of tennis culture within India in moving upwards in world rankings rather than a lack of physical ability and athletic attributes.
Dearth of world class training facilities had handicapped India but since the rise of Paes-Bhupati and Sania, conditions are improving and we have a number of state of the art trainingÂ centersÂ in India boasting of all types of surfaces and trained full time coaches. Somdev Devvarman, our current singles No. 1 was a regular player at the junior level but he gained recognition when he moved to USA to play for University of Virginia and made waves by being the only collegiate player to have made three consecutive finals at the NCAA, winning it back to back in his junior and senior years. This clearly shows that there is no dearth of talent in India. Somdev has now won many matches in various ATP events and even won a round at Wimbledon this year moving to 63rd in the world rankings. Another bright prospect Yuki Bhambri, won the junior Australian Open in 2009 and has moved to the senior circuit now. Given that Bernard Tomic, who won the same title in 2008, made it to the quarter finals in Wimbledon 2011, a lot is expected of Yuki who was junior world No. 1 at one point. And there is Rohan Bopanna who has had a very successful doubles career with Pakistani Aisam ul-Haq Qureshi, giving good performances in Grand Slams consistently and finished runners-up at US Open 2010. The pair is also famous for their campaign of “Stop War, Start Tennis”.
The Indian Davis Cup team has historically done well and is the most successful in Asia. We have finished runners-up thrice and consistently featured in the world group. It is therefore sad that we have not produced a single Grand Slam Champion yet. With the improving scenario though, let’s hope we have a champion within the next decade.