It has been a ride and then some for the tenacious Vishnu Vardhan, who was suddenly the cynosure of the fifth estate ever since he was asked to wade into the stormy waters of the Indian Olympic team. The 25 year old from Secunderabad has been grinding away in the relative obscurity of Challengers and Futures for the past nine years, without so much as causing a flutter. It wasn’t surprising then that the 266th ranked Vishnu survived the maelstrom with customary calm before going toe to toe with the eventual silver medallists – Jo Wilfried Tsonga and Michael Llodra – in the company of a disappointed but spirited Leander Paes. The seasoned young man has done too many miles on the rough road to be caught blinking in the transient lights of the moment. No wonder then that the man was back to the grind, wearing out his shoes on the Railway Recreation Club track in Secunderabad, even while on a brief stopover between the challengers in Uzbekistan and Bangkok.
In a relaxed conversation between the fitness training and a practice session with the promising Davis Cup team mate Saketh Myneni, Vishnu was forthcoming about the treasured experiences of the Olympic season and practical realities of life beyond it. Walking out with the national contingent amidst an orgy of music, light and fireworks into an Olympic stadium full of the finest athletes – now birthday parties cannot ever get better than that. Vishnu turned 25 on the day of the opening ceremony at the London Olympics; probably it was providence treating the dedicated young man for his untiring ways. The opportunity to walk the lawns at the mecca of the game and play his wholesome brand of heart-on-the-sleeve tennis was the icing on the cake. It just could not get better than that, at least not until Rio 2016.
Most importantly though, Vishnu gained confidence and valuable insights from standing tall amidst the pros on the tour to make a mark for himself even as he relished the opportunity to learn a few tricks from the seasoned campaigners. But for now, it is back to the corridors of second rung tennis populated by other aspiring professionals indulging in hearty battles for a few points and the scarce prize money. It is a tough climb, but then it is a mountain that players like Vishnu navigate week after week, as they journey towards the promised land that seems never too far.
As he sets out to Bangkok and Shanghai, he has half an eye on Chandigarh. With the absence of Leander, Mahesh Bhupathi, Rohan Bopanna and Somdev Devvarman – AITA was finally forced to call on the young brigade who have warmed the benches since 2008 and call them to action for the Asia-Oceania Zonal tie against New Zealand. Some members of the team – Vishnu, Yuki Bhambri, Sanam Singh and Divij Sharan are assembling in Shanghai to play the challenger even as they use the extra week together to strategise and practice together ahead of their arrival in Chandigarh the weekend before the tie.
On the individual front, Vishnu has about nine odd events through the remainder of the year to make an effort to garner the 80 – 100 points that needs to bounce his ranking up to around 220 by the end of the year. The momentum is in his corner and hardened tennis followers will watch closely to see if Vishnu Vardhan can translate a promising year into a meaningful one laced with quantifiable progress. One particular area where the Hyderabadi is looking to develop is his transition game, as grinding out from the baseline against the Europeans on the challenger circuit isn’t doing him much good. But a travelling coach is an expensive affair and a journeyman pro has to weigh his options before making the investment.
India is a curious example of a country infatuated with results. While there is no hesitation in showering accolades and currency for the men and women that make it to the finish line first, investment is hard to come by for the journey that takes an athlete to the tape. With sponsors hard to come by for some of these players, Vishnu and his ilk will have to rely on their sweat and toil to develop their game and realise their dreams. Keep it here as we follow the younger lot around the tour in these coming weeks.