Seventy-five-year-old tennis coach, Daniel Vedamuthu who’s made the game accessible even to children from economically weaker backgrounds

At the Sastri Nagar Tennis Centre, 75-year-old coach Daniel Vedamuthu is seated under a tree, watching his students play. “You might wonder why I’m still doing this,” he tells me, as I sit down next to him. “It is not to earn my bread. I’m a pensioner; so is my wife. But I coach students so that they don’t have to face the difficulties I faced when I coached my daughter!” A (voluntarily) retired superintendent from Thanjavur Medical College, Daniel’s tennis journey began when his daughter showed a keen interest in the game. “I started teaching my daughter, and soon became an authority in Thanjavur. My daughter played well, and today, she’s a successful coach in Sunnyvale, U.S. I moved to Chennai for her game; and started this centre 12 years ago.” And since then, Daniel’s tennis centre, in the Vidya Ratna School grounds, Sastri Nagar, has seen 40 to 45 children honing their game.

Daniel does not believe the game should be the privilege of the moneyed. “Tennis was once considered a royal game. When the British were here, every headquarters had a court.” Even now, the game is made out to be elitist. “But no child must be deprived of opportunities, be it education or sport, because they come from economically weak backgrounds. Underprivileged students, from this neighbourhood, come to learn from me. There’s usually a spike around the U.S. Open and Wimbledon, when they watch it on T.V. They easily make up 25 per cent of every batch. Initially, they have a fear, and say they have no money. But I tell them to come for the lessons anyway,” he says.

When he started teaching, Daniel used to be on the court for six hours everyday, racket in hand. “But I tell my students never to buy a racket immediately, no matter how enthusiastic they may seem. I tell them to use our rackets,” he says. “Sometimes, the kids lose interest in a week; then it just becomes an ornament around the house!” he laughs.

As we speak, two of Daniel’s older students drop in for a chat. Hari Chandrasekaran from Sastri Nagar who has trained under Daniel for 12 years, says he joined the centre, but dropped out in the first year, as he couldn’t afford the fees. “Sir sent some boys to my house, and asked me to come back. Till today, I don’t pay any fees. He taught me personally, and now, I play professionally, and want to be a coach.” An engineer by education, he says tennis is his calling. “There are plenty of students like me, who can’t afford fees; I want to tutor them.” Vasanth, Daniel’s student the last 10 years, also talks about tennis being his first love. “I’ve represented SRM University, where I studied, in tennis, and have won loads of trophies and medals,” he says.

The aim of the centre, says Daniel, is to bring students upto speed quickly. “Guna,” he introduces me to his marker and assistant, “is very good. In a week’s time, he makes sure the students are standing behind the nets!” “I believe it is my duty to teach the game; it does not need any reward,” Daniel says simply.