Age does not really matter. A first person account of how Indira Jayaraman took part in an international seniors tennis tournament with her family cheering her on from the sidelines.
For years I had been waiting for this. A Senior's Tennis Tournament for Women. Unfortunately, in India, women give up sports after marriage and children.I wonder why!
I started tennis at 20 and fell in love with the game. Soon I was winning State level tournaments.When I turned 35, I looked around for women players, hoping to play in an all women's tournament.
Meanwhile I played with the men. And how! My forehand is my weapon and I gave the men a hard time. Losing to a lady! They hated it. But they welcomed me into their fold, because I was no walkover.
In 2003, in the RSI (Services) club where I play in Pune, a tournament was held. Since I was the lone lady, the men agreed to call it the RSI Open and allowed me to play. They were in for a shock. I reached the finals and played a best of five set finals. You guessed it; I won in straight sets. There has been no tournament since!
I started to take part in the annual senior ITF for men held at Pune, (Deccan Gymkhana). Once I nearly beat a man from Mumbai. Another time I had a tough fight against a local Pune coach. Yet another time I had to play the top seed who had come from Rajasthan. He told me later that he had looked up the draw and wondered who this man Indira was! After the match, he was full of praise for my game. He suggested that I get women players together to start a women's match.
But where was I to search? Then the miracle! My father chanced upon a site on the Internet: The Annual Asian Seniors ITF (International Tennis Federation) for men and women at Bangkok. My children - aged 27, 25 and 22 - excitedly said that I had to participate and the elder two volunteered to sponsor me.
The tournament was to be held from November 16-22 last year at Pattaya, Thailand. November 19 was my anniversary. My husband happily agreed to escort me and even joked that he was coming along as coach and manager.
I began preparing in earnest. I stopped playing doubles and requested the men in my club to play singles with me. My children, whom I coached all these years, suddenly changed places with me. I was the student and they the coaches. Shankar, the eldest, advised me to be aggressive from the start. Janaki, the youngest, scolded if I hit a weak return; “Put in more effort,” she would say, “You will be playing with the world's best players.” Akila did not coach me; she arranged for the tickets and visa.
Preparations for my trip were in full swing. Suddenly it occurred to me that I could not wear salwar kameez, as I do in India. Frantically I checked the ITF dress code on the Internet. The rule was that ladies must wear skirts or shorts. I had given up wearing shorts after marriage. I am 53 now. Could I don shorts once again? But my husband calmly said, “The perfect dress.”
So I found two shorts my girls wear at home and two T-shirts: one with Akila's company logo and the other Shankar's company logo. “Ideal,” I thought, since they are my sponsors!
My mother gave me my father's track pants and my father gave me $200. My brother had already gifted me three Wilson racquets. I put them proudly in my niece's bag; Tara Iyer is a top-ranked Indian player. It had “India” on it and I proudly carried it in the aircraft to Thailand. My sister, a lawyer and writer, sent me a lovely poem: You've got the style/You've got the spin/You've got the swing/U are a real ACE.
I won my first match against an Indonesian and was elated. I found a doubles partner too. Soon I was in the singles and doubles finals. In the singles finals, I had to play against my doubles partner, an Australian.
We fought it out in the hot Pattaya sun from 11.00 a.m to 2.00 p.m. It was a cliff-hanger. She is seeded No 10 in the world in the 50+ category. The Tournament Director joked, “Not a single men's match lasted so long!” I lost -1-6, 7-6, 5-7.
The doubles final followed. There was not much energy left in us. We lost to an Indonesian pair 2-6,4-6.
So now I am back in Pune with two glittering cups, adorning my drawing-room shelf. It's a dream come true. My husband is happy too; he calls this ‘the second honeymoon!'
Indira Jayaraman is a freelance Russian translator, interpreter, teacher and an accomplished pianist. She is also the 2008 Pune Marathon women's winner in the three km event.