What does it take to be a top ranking tennis player? Russia’s Alexander Kudryavtsev, who was in the city to participate in the ATP Challenger, says financial constraints prevent many youngsters from pursuing the sport
For long, Indian tennis fans have had access to top quality tennis — either at the Chennai Open or on television. But Indian talent has been hard to come by. Somdev Devvarman has been in the top 100; Yuki Bhambri is tipped to be the next. Apart from them, there have not been others. So much so, even pint-sized successes are termed fairytales.
Last week, the Shriram Capital-P.L. Reddy Memorial ATP Challenger, the first of the three-week Challenger Tour swing in India, gave a glimpse of what it takes to be a top professional. Deprived as India was of these tournaments for long, not many knew what was needed to make the next step up. Those ranked in the 100s and 200s descended on the city’s landscape and their toil and hardship were revealing.
One such player was Alexander Kudryavtsev, an outrageously talented Russian, but still ranked 201 in the world. He has passed public memory since he reached the second round at the Chennai Open in 2008 after coming through the qualifying round and even after repeating the feat this year, in the process taking out the 2013 Open finalist Roberto Bautista Agut.
This is sure to happen again after he lost in the final to Yuki Bhambri on Saturday, but his travails will no doubt resonate with those of a lot of lower-rung Indian players — no sponsors, no money, travelling the globe in search of facilities, but still enthusiastic about playing the sport.
“It boils down to money,” Kudryavtsev says. “I think it’s the same problem in India as well. They can’t go to tournaments; they can’t afford the practice. It’s the same everywhere.”
“It’s expensive to play in Russia. Its hundred bucks for an hour. It’s less expensive to go to the best academies in the world. Then you have to buy balls and racquets and you have to get coaches. You can get [coaches] for 50 dollars but they are not good.”
The 28-year-old turned professional in 2003. In the 11 years since then, his only appearance in the Grand Slams came at the 2012 Australian Open where he lost in the first round to Roger Federer, and he has never broken into the top 100.
“You need good coaches but they are tough to pay for. If you are not top-100 it’s not possible. I have a family. They need to eat too. So I have to travel alone now.”
He lays the blame squarely on the Russian Federation. “I don’t think they even know that I exist. Players now go to Kazakhstan. They give money. So there is no reason for players to stay back. I would love to stay in Russia and I don’t want to play for any other country. For others it’s just two options — either stop tennis or go there.”
But, for the Russian journeyman the travels never cease. After competing in another Challenger in Kolkata, he is off to Astana, Kazakhstan.
“It’s my profession. I have a son and it’s not easy to see him only once a month. I miss my family very much but what can I do?”
Kudryavtsev is, however, intent on coming again to Chennai and endearing himself to fans. “I generally have my good weeks here. So I’ll come for sure. If I am not going to stop playing tennis, I’ll be here.”