Karti Chidambaram, vice-president of the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association, outlines the initiatives being launched to support promising players

Tamil Nadu tennis is often viewed with a sense of nostalgia, having contributed to some of the country's most memorable moments; but the state has more recently struggled to prevent promising youngsters from losing their way, owing to their own lack of self-belief and lack of support. Tamil Nadu Tennis Association vice-president Karti Chidambaram outlined the TNTA's latest initiatives to ensure players received all the support they needed, and in setting up a coaching system to attract more talent from the districts.

“Our primary goal is to provide long-term support to talented youngsters. We've sent Sriram Balaji, Mohit Mayur and Ramkumar for training abroad, and we're looking to take them to the next level. We need to support them completely at least for the next three to five years. For long, we've had talented 15- or 16-year-olds who've lost their way thereafter, for various reasons. We have to ensure players make the transition from juniors to senior level. We haven't had a system in place so far to ensure players don't get lost in the transition, so we're working on that now. Our ultimate goal is to produce a Davis Cup player from the state,” said Karti, also adding that it would be fitting to have a Tamil Nadu player in the main draw of the Chennai Open.

Training opportunities

Twenty-year-old Sriram will receive training from German coach Dirk Hordorff, who coaches Rainer Schuettler and Janko Tipsarevic, and will participate in tournaments across Europe. Mohit (16) and Ramkumar (15) will train at the Sanchez Casal Academy in Barcelona, with Mohit likely to participate in the French Open and the Wimbledon juniors. Based on the extent of progress made by the three, the training period will be extended from three months to six months, a year and then more.

“Sriram, Mohit and Ramkumar are the best players we have from the state. We need to ensure they get the exposure they need and the right kind of training. The standards in Europe are way higher than what they will find here, which is why we've sent them there. It takes nearly $50,000 a year to provide a player with the best facilities. The TNTA is funding the players at the moment, with the help of a few private sponsors.

“We are also looking to improve the standards of coaching in the districts. There's aren't enough qualified coaches in the districts now, and we're looking to move some coaches from the city to the districts. Besides that, we also have to broad-base coaching and work on upgrading skills. Conducting tournaments isn't everything. We also need smart administration and more accountability,” said Karti.

The TNTA vice-president added that supporting players from lower income groups would be a priority. As part of that programme, the TNTA has introduced a professional coaching scheme for underprivileged boys that includes taking care of their diet and nutritional needs.

“We've decided to back boys from these backgrounds. They're hungrier and work harder, and we need to support them completely. We've seen how successful cricket has been in its reach across different economic groups, and we've to understand how important that reach is, for tennis to eventually grow further.”