India is witnessing a tennis boom

June 28th, 2008 - 6:49 am ICT by IANS  

By Pragya Tiwari
Tennis has managed to survive in India, where most other sports have often been eclipsed by an obsession called cricket. Not just survive, but in some senses even managed to haul itself back to the extent of raising hopes of a future that could give its legion of fans more moments to cherish, as it did in the past. There is a veritable tennis boom now in the country. More and more youngsters are taking to the sport and the tennis academies are mushrooming with promising youngsters flocking to them.

National tennis coach T. Chandrasekhar feels tennis is fast catching the imagination of parents who are eager to see their wards learning tennis from an early age. Today at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA) Complex, there are around 700 youngsters learning tennis including those who are as young as five year old. In fact, a Sports Ministry report says tennis is the “fastest growing sport in India.”

Agrees tennis promoter Bobby Singh, who runs the Peninsula Tennis Academy in 35 cities across the country. “Tennis most definitely is the next big sport in India. It is just a matter of time when we will have more players in the top hundred rankings.”

In fact, old-timers say tennis has always had a fan base.

“Tennis always had a huge fan base and, of course, heroes. Naresh Kumar and Ramanathan Krishnan were followed by Jaideep Mukerjea and Premjit Lal. Then we had the Amritraj brothers — Vijay and Anand — with Shashi Menon and Jasjit Singh joining them. And then Ramesh Krishnan arrived but before he faded away, (Leander) Paes had emerged,” says Yashwant Singh of Alwar, secretary of the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA) during 1983-89.

The slow climb has begun in the form of Challengers and Futures tennis tournaments, considered widely as the second and third rungs of the tennis ladder. With two Challengers and 10 Futures in 2007 and a higher number in 2008 — the All India Tennis Association (AITA) has already held two challengers and seven futures with some more to come — there may yet be a cause to celebrate.

Today Challengers and Futures are a key platform from where players are launched on to the world stage. They have become a boon for the Indian players, who have often found it difficult to garner ranking points to climb up the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) ladder.

Also, more and more Indians are getting a look-in with the Challengers being organised in their backyard and promising youngsters getting the wildcards to compete with players from the top 200 on the ATP rankings. That’s how the world junior number seven Yuki Bhambri got to play as a wildcard against better-rated players.

Indian Davis Cupper Harsh Mankad, who had won the doubles title along with national grass court champion Ashutosh Singh in SAIL Open last month, sees the Challengers at home very positively for players who are on a shoestring budget.

Yuki’s mother Indu Bhambri agrees. “The best thing about the Challengers being here is that we don’t have to shell out money. When Yuki participated in the US Open last year, I already had the return tickets booked. It was so costly.”

“By playing in the two $50,000 Challengers (here) we at least now know where we stand at the international level and what we need to do to improve our game,” Ashutosh told IANS.

Most of these players are the products of the National Tennis Academy (NTA) which in 2006 housed 12 children who were selected by the Andaman and Nicobar local government as part of the AITA scheme to help the tsunami-hit people of the islands.

“Some of the youngsters turned out to be highly talented and went on to win the under-14 talent series. Some of them made it to the quarter-finals of the Super series in just one year of training,” said Chandrasekhar who was then in-charge of the NTA.

It is been two years and the children are still here. The AITA provides for all their needs, right from their school expenses to their tennis requirements. They attend classes at Delhi Public School (DPS), Gurgaon, adjoining the capital New Delhi and are under the care of qualified coaches.

This year too NTA selected 20 children from humble economic background in under-14 age group from the northeastern states.

The AITA is making efforts to bring more tournaments to India and is offering players greater opportunity to exhibit competitive skills to make up for the lost time. The results are slowly trickling in. A welcome beginning.

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