The three ITF $10,000 tournaments in the State threw up exciting Indian players and bodes well for the future of the game
The All India Tennis Association might have served a double fault on the tricky selection of the Indian team for the London Olympics, but it has certainly been striving to serve an ace with a slew of developmental programmes for Indian tennis. Its ambitious plan to hold at least 30 to 40 ITF events in the country, took wing with the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association (KSLTA) holding three $ 10,000 ITF Men’s Circuit tournaments in a row at Mandya, Mysore and Bangalore. The three events were an index of the growing prowess of second-rung Indian players, who are making a determined bid to knock at the AP door.
All the three championships were won by Indians — Vijyanat Malik at Mandya and Vishnu Vardhan at Mysore and Bangalore. While it was difficult for Indian players to get into the main draw, five years ago, things have changed dramatically now. The main draw and even qualifying rounds are loaded with our players, and foreign contenders are finding it hard to get past the Indian brigade.
“The Indian circuit,” says Ti Chen of Chinese Taipei, who was the finalist at Bangalore, “is now a highly competitive affair and Indian players are hard to beat at home”. With loads of points coming their way at home, Indian players are saved the expense of earning points abroad. “It is not worth playing $ 10,000 events away from home now,” says Vishnu Vardhan. “I play the Challengers abroad, which earns me better points.”
The 25-year old Davis Cupper, is one of the rising stars of the game, who came up the hard way from junior ranks. Vardhan serves big at over 100 mph and is considered one of the fastest servers in the India and carries a huge forehand. Based in Hyderabad and working for ONGC in Chennai, he is focused on his goals. “I am working hard on my game and wish to break into the top 100.”
The Indian scene, Vardhan says is “no cake walk. Vijayant Malik, Karan Rastogi, Jeevan Nedunchezhian, Sriram Balaji and Saketh Myneni all play well. We know each other’s game, having played on circuit all along.”
Sriram Balaji is another promising player, who is a product of TNTA’s visionary programme. He and Nedunchezhian study at a German tennis university. “It has helped us a lot,” Balaji says. “I am able to figure out flaws and learn what is needed to be a good player at the international level. I hope to work my way into the top 100 in a few seasons and have a go at ATP tournaments and Grand Slams.” Nedunchezhian echoes Balaji’s sentiments.
AITA had its AGM and elections at Bangalore during the Bangalore ITF. Anil Khanna, who was elected president, said: “We need to have a strong grassroots programme. We have initiated the Play Tennis scheme, which would involve a million school kids in the country, who would take up the sport with AITA’s and the Sports Ministry’s backing. A Swedish coach supervises our junior developmental programme. India is now among the top 12 countries, which ITF recognises for quality coaching programmes and our National Coaches Workshop held recently in Goa was a huge success. The AITA, Khanna said, is keen that all senior players make themselves available for National duty as and when required.
For Karnataka, the recent election of AITA, was a shot in arm as C.S. Sunder Raju, the secretary of the KSLTA was named as joint secretary. With his passion for the game and experience, he is bound to make a positive contribution.
Somdev Devarman’s rise as India’s top player in singles on the ATP circuit, has made the AITA realise the immense potential among players from the North-Eastern States. At the initiative of Saikia, its treasurer from Assam, AITA has now recognized five North-Eastern State units as full-fledged members.
“It’s a long road ahead and we have a dedicated team now to make successful journey,” says Khanna.