On talent turf
The 11-year-old Madras Cricket Club-National Junior Tennis Championship provides aspiring youngsters an opportunity to display their talent on clay courts
THERE IS a certain ambience, ethos and charm in the way championships are run. Take Wimbledon, for instance. The All England Championships is special because there is a glorious tradition associated with it. And traditions go a long way in shaping the character of a championship.
Thousands of miles away in the southern metropolis of Chennai, a similar tournament, not in terms of duration, but in terms of reverence, custom and successful conduct, has been held quietly for almost a decade.
The Madras Cricket Club-National Junior Tennis Championship, which completed 11 years in August 2003, is the only tournament in the city that provides aspiring youngsters an opportunity to showcase their talent on clay courts. As Ganesh of Adidas, says, "This is one of the few junior tournaments played on clay." The players see the championship as a platform to move up the ladder; they attach great importance to it. Hiten Joshi, organising secretary, says, "I think it has seen many ups and downs. We have taken a boost with every edition of the tournament. We have given better quality balls to the players, there is a lovely dinner and to cap it, we show movies for the players."
Joshi says the club's facilities can be compared with the best. "The ambience is different ideal for sports. Moreover, we have thrown open the club to the players and coaches."
The running of the tournament has been made easier as many of the MCC members are founder-members of the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association. With the organisers, umpires and referees being committed, the event has been running like a well-oiled outfit, says Premkumar Karra, who was the tournament director from 1991-97.
"The only regret was that Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi did not play in the championship."
Explaining how the 157-year-old MCC got to host the National junior tournament, V.K. Parthasarathy, former Secretary, TNTA, says, "In the late 1980s when N. Sankar was the president of TNTA, he took a conscious decision to hold as many tournaments as possible for the development of tennis. So, we used to be in constant touch with AITA. And that's how the tournament came here."
Sponsors are the lifeline of any tournament, and the organisers have not lost sight of the need to have a good relationship with them. Understanding the dynamics and requirements of the sponsors, organisers have played their part well, barring a few hiccups.
"Sponsors are demanding as they have invested the money. By and large, I think we have had good rapport with them," says Karra.
Fifty-eight year-old P. Narasimhan, who has been chief referee-cum-supervisor for all the tournaments, says, "A majority of players who have won the title have made a mark Harsh Mankad, Kamala Kannan, Vijay Kannan, Manisha Malhotra, Sai Jayalakshmi and Isha Lakhani."
The most important reason why the tournament continues to be a success, elaborates Narasimhan, "is that the Madras Cricket Club never hesitated to host the tournament when it was asked. The MCC had a tie-up with corporate houses to sponsor the event for a minimum period of three years."
It is a two-way process, Narasimhan explains. The organisers are assured that the sponsor will not withdraw support. This gives the former a chance to overcome deficiencies within a year.
From the player's point of view, there is a continuity." IOB, HSBC, India Cements and TI Cycles have over the years been instrumental in the smooth running of the championship. Adidas has assured that it will be the main sponsor for two more years (2003-2005).
The going has not been rosy all through. There have been problems mid-way, but the organisers have faced them and emerged the wiser. In 11 years, there have been more pleasant memories than otherwise. The year 2002 was a trifle difficult as there was no title sponsor.
"But we were determined to hold the event and also managed to get Hutch and IOB to co-sponsor," says Joshi.
Much before the National junior tournament came to the scene, Chennai often hosted the South India championship. While the latter was meant only for men, there was none for juniors till the MCC Nationals came along.
The tournament has improved with every edition with regard to the quality of matches and umpiring. But the veteran referee Narasimhan has some suggestions to offer.
"Now that the competition has become tough, we need more technical officials. In view of the large size of the draws and number of events, it would be appropriate if a proper transport system is arranged to shuttle between venues (the first few rounds take place at Madras Gymkhana Club, TNTA and UI-TNTA courts)."
Narasimhan adds, "The highpoint of this tournament in the past 11 years, has been that there has been no major unsportsmanlike behaviour on the part of the players." K. KEERTHIVASAN
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