Recently, India’s number 1 tennis player in U-14 division, Chandni Srinivasan, has made a humble request to the Mahindra Group Chairman through a tweet. It reads, “Dear @anandmahindra uncle. I am Chandni Srinivasan, India No 1 in Under 14 in Tennis. I read about your gift of SUVs to six young Indian Players. I don't need SUV, but I need support to go forward in Tennis. Request you to provide support to me.” Celebrating India's victory against Australia in the recently concluded The Border–Gavaskar Trophy, Anand Mahindra, Chairman of the Mahindra Group has announced that he will gift the Mahindra Thar SUV to six young members of the Indian team. Chandni posted the tweet in response to this announcement. The tweet comes as an eye-opener. And it demands clear solutions.
India is rich with talented and young tennis players. Still, why there is just one Sania Mirza from India? Why no girl after her, became a trailblazer in Indian tennis? Chandni Srinivasan, Hyderabad, The No.1 ranked player in India in the U-14 category by All India Tennis Association (AITA) rankings published in March 2020 and also the Year-End Ranking List, has an answer, “We have no basic support. I am talented and ambitious. I can make India proud. But how can I do it when there is no support system?”
“I started playing tennis at the age of seven. I am working hard since then. I think this is the same with all players. And many talented ones are forced to quit tennis at the age of 14 or 15. Just because they can’t afford it. No governments in India till date has supported young talents in sports. They don’t want to know what’s happening at the grassroots level. We face the same attitude from corporates. They pour money on established players and cricket. None is keen to think beyond them. We need support from the beginning to soar high.”
Chandni has represented India in ITF Under 12 Asian Tennis Finals at Kazhakstan in 2018. Also, she was selected to represent India in the World Junior Championship, Australia 2020. The tournament got cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Trisha Vinod, ITF Juniors No 603 in the World, AITA Under 18 Top 10 in India and a UG student at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, USA, says, “For me, it has been really hard to practise tennis in India. We never get any support from the government or corresponding authorities. Instead, they try to put us down. That is the reason I have left for the United States of America to pursue my dreams. I have reached this far in my tennis career only with the support of my family and my mentor Mr Krishna Kumar, former tennis player.
Gayatri Rajesh Menon, Kerala's youngest women's champion in tennis, shares a different experience. She says, “I started playing tennis at the age of nine. It has been a wonderful journey. Now I am studying at The National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) to devote more time for tennis. These days I practise at Regional Sports Centre (RSC), Cochin. Tennis academies teach you the basic skills and techniques. We have to keep practising and improving ourselves. One problem I face is the lack of sufficiently good quality tennis courts. It will be good if we get these facilities easily accessible.”
How to produce world-class players from India
India’s greatest advantage in sports is its human resources. If we offer the right guidance and infrastructure, we will shine well in the international sports scenario.
R Srinivasan, Chandni’s Father, says, “It is very much known to everyone that the Indian government hardly supports sports. When it comes to tennis, there is almost nothing. Another problem is that tennis coaching in India is not very great. Their focus is on making money. I have spent a lot of time on Chandni’s coaching.
“Talented players deserve support. In my daughter’s case, we have managed the expenses till now. But when we move forward, it looks impossible without external funding. I attempted to get financial aid from the government agencies. I failed. Then I wrote to companies and foundations like Infosys. None of them replied. I believe they are also not bothered to nurture these young talents.
“When Chandni read the news that Anand Mahindra offered cars to cricket players, she felt that he would possibly support her. We didn’t expect the tweet would grab this wide attention. Still, no response was received till now from Mr Mahindra.”
Trisha Vinod adds, “My advice to children is that do not try to depend on government funds. Depend on parents or get CSR from major companies. Keep focusing on your goals. Try to find a mentor who can guide you well. Most of the times coaching centres are business-minded. They don’t have a proper vision.
“Parents have a vital role in making a player. They should show patience and trust. It’s a long process. I started my training at the age of six. But it took 10 years for me to do something in it. Maybe you have to fail for years to achieve success. There is no shortcut.”
Trisha and her mother Divya Vinod recently launched Bouncing Balls Tennis Academy in Bangalore. “Tennis is expensive. We hardly have good players due to this reason. We have launched the academy with the vision to produce more tennis players in India. We would also take a pool of children mainly from poor backgrounds and fully sponsor them. Also, we will conduct events to educate parents about the game. We have had enough bitter experiences in our journey. I want to do my bit to support the upcoming players,” Trisha concludes.
Suresh Krishna, Former National Champion (2011) and Tennis Coach, Telangana, opines that industrialists can come to the rescue. “We have many talented teen players. But we don’t have an ecosystem to encourage them. They aren’t getting enough financial support. The role of tennis academies is to train them to play in national and international tournaments. To play in such tournaments, they need good financial background. In most cases, parents cannot afford it. So the players will never get the exposure when they are young. We cannot expect too much from government. But private companies can step up and support the talented ones. They can provide full funding to at least our top five players. Otherwise, governments can initiate bringing the industrialists or business giants to the sports sector. We cannot directly go to Ambani and Adani. Governments can make it. Not just for Tennis, but all sports. If sports is given enough priority, we can make a good number of stars in the coming years.”
Suresh Krishna has won the National Grass Court crown in Kolkata in 2011. Now he runs Suresh Krishna Tennis Academy (SKTA) in Telangana.
Rajesh Menon, Gayatri’s Father, says, “Becoming a great tennis player demands lots of hard work and determination. So far, it has been nice for us. We are based in Kochi. But we relocated to Mysore for two years just for Gayatri’s coaching. The whole family is involved in this. We have to take care of her fitness, diet, mental health etc. Gayatri took up Kalari (martial arts) to improve her stability, reflexes and endurance. The player goes through a complete physical and mental transformation. They need maximum support from the family.”
Adv. S.A.S. Navaz, IRS (Retd.), Secretary, Regional Sports Centre (RSC), Cochin, claims that the RSC offers top-notch facilities for aspiring tennis players in the city. “Justice P. Govindan Nair Indoor Tennis Complex World-Class Synthetic Courts at Regional Sports Centre uses Australian technology. It is the biggest Indoor Tennis Complex in the country with four tennis courts on asphalt base topped up with imported nine layered rubberized flexi cushion synthetic surface. We launched it in Kerala for the first time in 2004. In my view, children aren’t turning up to use these facilities. They should come forward.”
NEP 2020 and Tennis
R Nagaraj, Senior Tennis Player and Coach, Mysore is optimistic that the NEP 2020 will change the current Indian sports scenario. “NEP 2020 gives great importance to sports in schools and curriculum. I hope the existing challenges to pursue sports shall overcome once it is in practice. Apart from that, now the government has introduced projects like Fit India School Week and Khelo India.” R Nagaraj is the founder of Nagaraj Tennis Centre in Mysore. He ranks second in above 50 years players category of All India Tennis Association.
The 2nd edition of Fit India School Week started on 1st December 2020 and concluded on 31st January 2021. It was conducted with the aim to encourage kids to inculcate physical activity and sports in their daily routine as school is the first place where habits are formed. The event saw engagement from over 3.5 lakh schools across India.
Hironmoy Chatterjee, Vice President, All India Tennis Association (AITA) explains to Pallikkutam that, “AITA holds 853 tournaments a year in India. Children of all age groups are ranked according to their performance in the major 8 tournaments. Each state government gives enough funds for their respective players. There is a misconception among parents and players that you have to play many tournaments to excel in the game and rankings. If they choose to play the relevant games only, the funding issue doesn’t arise. AITA and the central government are doing our level best to support each player. Now, more changes are taking place to promote sports in India. The new National Education Policy is an example of the same.”
ALL INDIA TENNIS ASSOCIATION RANKINGS
As on 18th January 2021
1 RUDRA BATHAM - Madhya Pradesh
2 AARAV CHAWLA - Haryana
1 RETHIN PRANAV R S – Tamil Nadu
2 MANAS MANOJ DHAMNE – Maharashtra
BOYS UNDER 16
1 AAYUSH P BHAT - Karnataka
2 ARUNAVA MAJUMDER – West Bengal
BOYS UNDER 18
1 KRISHAN HOODA - Haryana
2 CHIRAG DUHAN – Haryana
GIRLS UNDER – 12
1 DIVYA SHARMA - Haryana
2 MAAYA RAJESHWARAN REVATHI – Tamil Nadu
GIRLS UNDER – 14
1 RIYA SACHDEVA - Delhi
2 SAMIKSHA DABAS – Delhi
GIRLS UNDER – 16
1 LAKSHMI PRABHA ARUNKUMAR – Tamil Nadu
2 PARI SINGH – Haryana
GIRLS UNDER – 18
1 RESHMA MARURI - Karnataka
2 AKANKSHA NITTURE – Maharashtra