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KALYAN ASHOK
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TENNIS Karnataka needs to take a leaf out of Tamil Nadu’s initiatives to bring more youngsters into the game and steadily spiral them to higher levels

WINNERS ALL THE WAYRajiv Naidu with the trainees
WINNERS ALL THE WAYRajiv Naidu with the trainees

Athree-week tennis fiesta marked the end of the 2012 season as the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association closed the 2012 season with eight ITF championships — five men’s and three women’s events, including the ITF Men’s Futures Tournaments.

The tournaments did bring back the focus on the State as a major hub for tennis and the uniqueness of it all was that the tournaments were not conducted in Bangalore, but in smaller towns in the state, such as Davangere, Dharwad, Belgaum with the earlier ones being held at Mandya, Mysore, Gulbarga and Bidar.

The step, no doubt has enhanced image of the game in those areas, and created larger awareness. The championship at Davangere, for instance galvanised the local denizens to form a proper district tennis association, which in turn would conduct more tournaments and maintain the resurfaced synthetic courts at the Government High School grounds.

While these are positive developments for the game in the State, the sport would get a major boost, if the KSLTA embarks on a long-term development programme to groom young talent as well. There’s no denying the fact that young players from the state who have great promise, like B.R. Nikshep, Spurthi Shivaligaiah and Sharmada Balu, need sustained support to reach higher levels in the game.

The recent ITF tournament brought into focus the need to push our youngsters to the next stage and it is interesting to observe what some other associations are doing in this respect. States like Tamil Nadu have shown the way. Tamil Nadu players dominated the draw of the ITF men’s events and as many as A dozen players made their impact on the circuit —some in a big way — Sriram Balaji, Ramkumar Ramanathan, National hard court champion Jeevan Nedunchehezian, Raneejet Virali Murugesn (in the Davis Cup squad now), and Viral Mohit Mayur. In fact, in the first two ITF events, won by Davis Cupper Sanam Singh, the other finalists were from Tamil Nadu — Sriram Balaji, who made the final at Davangere, and Ram Kumar in Dharwad.

What makes the TN players tick? “It is result of our long-term planning,” says Rajiv Naidu, the treasurer of the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association, who accompanied the TN contingent as an observer at the ITF events. “Though we cannot take the full credit for everyone’s performances, most of the boys were picked at an early age for grooming and we supported them, wherever they chose to train. Balaji was a talented lad from Coimbatore and our persistent effort and support over the past seven years has helped him to reach a much higher level in the game. Right now, he is playing Futures and from next season he will concentrate on Challengers. Boys like Ram Kumar and Mohit Mayur are fully supported by us; we take care of their training expenses not only at home, but also in Europe, where players like Mohit Mayur train and tour and we plan the right exposure for them. We at TNTA are always on the lookout for new talent and make an earnest effort to support them as much as we can,” says Rajiv Naidu. He revealed that TNTA, over the past three years, has spent Rs. two crore on its activities. Generous help from the president, Alagappan, and vice-president, Karti Chidambaram, and their ability to bring in corporate sponsors is another major plus point.

TNTA is looking ahead and plan to bring in a new set of youngsters on the circuit. “We have about a dozen players on the ITF circuit now. Maybe in another couple of seasons, we wish to have another dozen more. We have identified quite a few youngsters like Neeraj, Mukund, and Prajnesh, who can form the future crop,” says Naidu.

The TNTA officials said that the association is also assessing talent from districts as well. “Besides a permanent development centre in Chennai, we plan to have to have more centres in Madurai, Salem and Trichy.” A slew of national ranking and ITF tournaments are also on cards of TNTA. The game’s grown in TN can also be attributed to the ATP Chennai Open, held every year. “Year after year, the kids have been watching world stars live in action, and naturally, more and more of them want to take up the game,” says Naidu.

KALYAN ASHOK

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