By U.B. Acharya
In a recent middle piece article in the centre page of a national newspaper, the writer has lamented that while small countries like Switzerland, Serbia, Croatia, Greece etc. have produced top class tennis players why could not India with such a large population produce one Grand Slam champion. He has suggested that industrialists like Ambani should sponsor a Grand Slam Championship in India to popularise the game of tennis.
I believe that this will not serve any purpose. Because India already has an ATP 250 tournament and several ATP Challenger tournaments and this has not produced the desired result.
As we all know, India has an excellent cricket infrastructure and a great team but unfortunately it is not truly global. We are very good at Kabaddi and again it is not global. Also, at one time we were the best hockey team in the world but now relegated to second level because the game is now power game rather than skilful dribbling. Regarding other team sports we are just in the also ran category.
Regarding individual sport, we have world champions in chess and in women’s badminton and to some extent in men’s badminton also. I feel that we need to nurture these events fully. Because success breeds success. For example, Australian Lew Hoad after winning multiple Major titles in tennis in 1950s was followed by a dozen other champions. Similarly, we can give examples of Sweden in 1970s and recently of Spain.
However, if India is really serious about producing a grand slam tennis champion, we need to start from scratch. Firstly, the child must show aptitude for tennis by the time he or she is four or five years old. This can be cultivated by the parents themselves if they are good tennis players (at least of club level) and practice with the kid and also, watch many important tennis matches on TV with the kids. Secondly, the child must have talent and will to work very hard at it. Thirdly, parents will have to arrange coaching under a reputed coach usually as a group of young players. This does not come cheap but many parents these days can afford this.
The next level (fourth) is really the crucial one. This may require six to eight hours of practice and physical exercise. To meet this effort proper diet is also essential. At this stage group coaching will not do but individual coaching is essential. At this stage parents will have shell out considerable amount of money. I know of a foreign champion saying that his parents mortgaged their home to finance his coaching!
Here the industrialists might be of great help. If any one of the companies take the responsibility of financing his coaching in a reputed tennis academy in a foreign country that would be beneficial. Also, parents and the player have to make a once in a lifetime decision. He will have to say goodbye to his normal schooling schedule. Here the industrialist has to guarantee the parents that in case he does not make the grade to play international competitions, they would employ him in a decent job in their establishment.
Assuming that he shows promise in the fourth level, with the advice of a full-time coach he should enter into ITF Features and ATP Challengers tournament. Travelling all over the world even with a small team is expensive but is required. Winning these tournaments earn points and improve ranking. This is the time to become a professional.
From this level one graduates into proper ATP tournaments. If one wins one ATP 250 tournament one’s ranking will improve considerably. This has to happen by the time he is 18-year-old. ATP has week by week ranking system and it goes down to 1000. If a player’s ranking reaches below 200, he will gain attention of the press and probably some sponsors to advertise their products.
Top 128 players gain direct entry into Grand Slam events and top 50 players these days earn good money. All these players have more or less the same game. They all serve well and have equally good forehand and backhand. But the top 20 players are of a different kind. They structure the points in an intelligent way and eventually win crucial points. This requires some mental strength and self-belief. However, the Grand Slam Champion is invariably one of the top five players!
In late 1940s, Ramanathan quit his Government job in Delhi, moved South and personally coached his son Krishnan. For that he built a court in his compound. Krishnan became a junior Wimbledon Champion but could not go beyond semi-finals in Grand Slams. In turn his son Ramesh also became a junior Wimbledon Champion but could not cut in senior level. Similarly, Vijay also reached certain height but not a Grand Slam Champion.
In conclusion, to the question posed in the beginning, I would say that it is not imposable but a herculean task. My earnest wish is that some parents would take the plunge and go for it because unless one tries one will not succeed.