Playing tennis ion Delhi comes with its own challenges. For the budding tennis champions playing at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA) Complex, the heat, humidity, and dust they brave makes a stout heart a prerequisite.

Summer is the ideal time for tennis, if you watch the French Open and Wimbledon on television! It definitely makes for a terrific experience to view some of the best men and women in the world, make the game look so simple. But, if you are looking for future champions in the heat, humidity and dust of the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA) Complex in the Capital, you need to have a stout heart.

For there is heat from all around, and there is heat reflected from the synthetic playing surface. A tennis court can at times feel like a furnace. The kids never complain, as playing is fun, even if some of them are forced to twirl their racquets by their parents who nurse fond dreams of their wards making it to the Grand Slams one day. Of course, the parents cannot digest that their kids have to endure such tough conditions, and often feel guilty about pushing them into the deep end, to fulfil their own ambitions.

Delhi being a strong hub for the game, tennis is played round the year. Many tournaments are conducted and the whole country assembles, for the national and international events. It was the case when the National inter-State under-12 and under-14 tennis championships were hosted for boys and girls over a fortnight at the DLTA Complex, as the mercury kept rising on the thermometer. As it turned out, the under-12 kids proved the guinea pigs, and the under-14 kids benefited from the bad experience of the lower age group.

While the under-12 kids endured the tough conditions for long hours in playing their matches in a proper format, a plethora of complaints and plea for mercy from around the country forced the tournament director, Manpreet Kandhari to request the All India Tennis Association (AITA) to change the format, and play short sets, and match tie-breaks instead of third set.

‘’We had brought the starting time to 8 a.m. We requested the AITA for a change format and they agreed, which reduced the playing time considerably,” said Manpreet, who is also the administrator at the DLTA.

‘’We did not have the no-advantage rule for singles (by which whoever wins the first point after deuce takes the game), as it would have been unfair. The matches would have ended very quickly, and the kids need to play for a reasonable time’’, reasoned the tournament referee, Dhanashree Giri. In short sets, whoever reaches four games, with a difference of two games, wins the set. There is a tie-break at 4-4. In normal sets, six games is the minimum with a tie-break at 6-6. In the match tie-break, whoever reaches 10 points, with a difference of two points against the opponent’s score, wins it.

Thus, while Delhi and Andhra Pradesh, quite used to the heat, won the under-12 boys and girls titles respectively, it was the turn of the Maharashtra boys and the Tamil Nadu girls to clinch the honour in the under-14 section.

It was just the chair umpire and the kids, without any linesmen and ball boys, which forced the kids to endure longer duration of play, and a few bad calls. It was quite cute to see the kids flare up at the umpire at times, shouting and gesticulating, “arre itna bahar thaa”.

Luckily, the kids were knowledgeable and took good care of themselves in terms of sipping enough water through their matches, and taking salts and energy drinks, not to forget bananas that provide instant energy. “There is a general habit of kids eating a lot of sugar and oil. It is bad for playing kids. They need to be guided to eat a lot of fruits and stay hydrated with plenty of fluids at all times. It is important to take curd, butter milk and water melon in summer,” said Dharmendra Pratap Singh, familiar to everyone as Abhimanyu, the strength and conditioning expert at the DLTA.

Normally, only the winning players continue through the week in a tournament. But in team competitions, irrespective of victory or defeat, the kids have to play singles and doubles almost through the week, owing to the league format. The experience toughens them up and also helps them bond strongly. It also teaches them the need to take good care of their health, to ensure quick recovery for the next day.

Tennis in summer teaches one thing to the kids: ‘If you want to be a champion, you have to beat the conditions, as much as you play skilfully and strongly to tame your opponent across the net’.