‘Younger Indian tennis players lack stomach to fight’

April 14th, 2008 - 2:40 pm ICT by admin  

By Saumojyoti Singha Choudhury
New Delhi, April 14 (IANS) Japan’s best tennis player ever Shuzo Matsuoka knows what it takes to reach the highest level. He was overwhelmed to see the hunger in Leander Paes when he was just 16 years old. The present lot of Indian players lack that attitude and stomach to fight, feels Matsuoka. Matsuoka, who became the first Japanese player to win an ATP singles event in Seoul in 1992 following which he reached a career-high world ranking of 46 in singles, said both Rohan Bopanna and Prakash Amritraj are very good talents, but they lack hunger in their game.

“Nobody from India is coming up in a big way in singles. When it comes to Davis Cup, they are very good players. Both Bopanna and Amritraj have the potential to be in the top 100, especially Amritraj, but he needs to have a little bit of hunger in his game,” Matsuoka, who is here as a part of Japanese television crew told IANS on the sidelines of India’s Davis Cup tie.

“I think he needs to have that hunger like Paes who fought for his place in world tennis to get to the top. If both Bopanna and Amritraj break into top 100, it would be good for Asian Tennis,” he added.

Matsuoka was an accomplished grass court player having finished runners-up at the prestigious grass court tournament at Queen’s Club in 1992. His best performance in Grand Slam was a Wimbledon quarterfinal appearance in 1995 where he lost to Pete Sampras.

Matsuoka is overwhelmed to see the development of Asian tennis as a whole. He is especially excited about his nation’s teenage sensation Kei Nishikori who is referred to as “Project 45″ in the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in US. Bollettieri and the academy staff have a very specific goal in mind for the talented 18-year-old and want him to reach a step ahead than Matsuoka. That was how the name got scripted.

“I think Kei can overtake my ranking. I started teaching him when he was 11 years old and had sent him to Australian Open junior to get a taste of the highest level. After a three-year stint with me, he went to Nick Bollettieri Academy in the US.

“He definitely has the potential to be a top 10 player and can even win a Grand Slam. The coaches in the US too agree with me because they know about the quality of his tennis.”

Matsuoka feels that Nishikori’s weak link in his game - his serve - has improved a lot over the years.

“He (Nishikori) has improved a lot in the last few years, especially his serve. I am hoping he will reach the top bracket of world tennis within the next two to three years.”

In the 1995 US Open, Matsuoka suffered terrible cramps and was left writhing in pain in his first round match against Petr Korda. The rules at the time meant that Matsuoka would have forfeited the match if he had called for medical attention, so he was left to suffer until he defaulted for delaying the match. The incident led to a change in the rules of professional tennis and allowed players to receive medical treatment during matches.

Matsuoka now runs a tennis-coaching centre in Tokyo where he grooms talented Japanese youngsters.

“At one point of time, I was very upset to see that after me nobody was coming up in the nation. That’s why 10 years ago I came up with a coaching project. I select 16 talented players every year and train them four times in a year for a period of three years.”

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