Shivakumar Palani claims he is probably the only man to not miss a single day of the Chennai Open, ever since the event came to the city in 1997. A racquet stringer, Shivakumar started as a player before shifting to his current profession and has been working on a tennis player’s most important equipment for almost 30 years now.
“All the players know me here and I’m the only one to string their racquets,” says Shivakumar with a proud smile. The stringer works for almost 16 hours a day and takes 10 to 15 minutes to string a racquet during a match.
Practising with the pros helps
“They don’t miss, until you miss.” 18-year-old Ramkumar Ramanathan’s pithy statement provided a valuable insight into the difference between the established players on the ATP circuit and the upcoming Indian ones.
However, the difference in the quality hardly deters the young players here from engaging in a practice session with a seasoned pro. “It helps me to become a better player as one has to show a greater level of consistency against the experienced players,” said Ramkumar.
Despite an early loss in the qualifiers, Mohit Mayur too has benefitted from having a “knock” with the likes of Sergiy Stakhovsky and Cedrik-Marcel Stebe. Though the Indian duo has gained much confidence from its sessions, they still need to work on the other aspects of their game.
“I’m quite behind them (professional players) in terms of fitness and conditioning,” remarked Ramkumar. Mohit concurred and added, “I need to specifically focus on my mental preparation.”
Hordorff praises Balaji
Many young Indian tennis players, including Mohit Mayur, have had valuable stints at the much-reputed Schuettler Waske Tennis University, Germany, in the past. One of the academy’s leading coaches Dirk Hordorff is a regular visitor to the ATP Chennai Open and, among others, he coaches world No. 9 Janko Tipsarevic.
Talking about the current bunch of Indian players, Hordorff singled out N. Sriram Balaji for praise. “Balaji has improved massively from the time he arrived at the academy. He is still young and ranked 325 in the world. Not everybody can be an exceptional teenager like Rafael Nadal,” said the German coach.
Hordorff is also pleased with Tipsarevic’s progress and asserted, “He kept improving last year. He made it to the quarterfinals at the last US Open and was up 4-1 in the fifth set against David Ferrer before eventually losing. One has to be consistent throughout a Grand Slam to break through (to the final stages).”
Much to do
Tennis aside, there’s much to do for fans inside the SDAT Tennis Stadium at ‘Market Square’, which provides an alternative avenue of entertainment for visitors. The biggest hit inside the small complex, which houses 10-12 stalls, is a ‘meet and greet’ session with a different player everyday.
Moreover, visitors can also play a variety of games and participate in tennis quizzes there and the ‘square’ has gained much popularity among kids and casual observers of the sport.
Keywords: Chennai Open