Having parents as the biggest support system is not something uncommon for a kid in the world of tennis. Right from Jimmy Connors to Steffi Graf to Venus and Serena Williams to India’s very own Sania Mirza, we have seen the undeniable contribution of tennis parents.
It is no different with budding Indian tennis players growing up with dreams in their eyes. At the recently-concluded Kolkata leg of the HCL Tennis Junior Tour and Masters, 2016, countless parents gathered to see their children battle through the U-12 and U-14 age groups in this nationwide event aimed at finding out the best junior talent in the country.
The grounds of the Bengal Tennis Association (BTA), where the event was held, reverberated with vociferous chants of support and resounding applause throughout the five days of competition as the parents tried their best to spur their children on to victory.
It was indeed a refreshing change in a country obsessed with cricket. Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza have unmistakably been responsible for injecting this burning desire to succeed on a tennis court. They have made it possible to believe that Indians can rule in tennis.
Thanks to their feats, the mentality of Indian parents is changing and they now want to push their kids into any sport that they want to pursue. In a new India, the parents have a better understanding of the entire process involved in the making of a champion. That it starts at a tender age and it also requires unflinching backing from all quarters is something they are very well acquainted with nowadays.
That is the reason why, this tournament is a godsend gift for many of them. It simply could not have come at a better time. The kids are getting a real flavour of a tough competition at such a young age and their guardians are undoubtedly happy about it.
Mr. M. Palani from Chennai, whose daughter Kaavya played in the U-14 category, sounded very pleased that such an event is being held for the first time and he even called it a ‘pioneer Tour’.
“This is a pioneer Tour for juniors. There used to be no such Tour for juniors earlier. Such an event is motivating for young kids. The way they have organized it is very good and transparent.”
Indeed it is. To be staged over four legs – Chennai, Kolkata, Lucknow, Pune – this event, held under the auspices of the All India Tennis Association (AITA), is by far the best talent hunt at the junior level. The top 16 players from each category in singles will get to play at the HCL Junior Masters in November, the winners of which will be awarded with an all-expense paid trip to train at the prestigious Rafa Nadal Academy in Spain for a week.
Mr. Palani acknowledged that the rise of such tournaments will eventually pave the way for India to excel as it will only help to eliminate people’s prejudices against a career in sports. He pointed out that earlier it used to be a one-man army with only the parents desperately finding measures to fulfill their wards’ dreams in sports. In a country where stories of struggle of sportspersons are prevalent because of lack of assistance, tournaments such as these will make more parents come forward so that their children’s talents are nurtured early.
No wonder he is enthused over his daughter wanting to professionally play tennis. An ardent fan of Boris Becker and Steffi Graf, he is accompanying Kaavya to all the four legs of the HCL Tennis Junior Tour.
That Mr. Palani’s passion for tennis is infectious was evident when his daughter too exuded the same exuberance when she talked about playing in this tournament.
“I am enjoying getting so much experience playing in this tournament. I am also loving this opportunity to travel as I am meeting so many new people in every city,” said the youngster, whose inspiration is Serena Williams.
The Palani family is not the only one travelling to all the four legs. Chennai residents Ragava Pradhaan and his father, Mr. RV Sathyanarayana Raju too will be there in each of the four cities.
Mr. Raju could not stop gushing about the HCL Tennis Junior Tour when asked about it. “I want to thank the AITA, Mahesh Bhupathi and HCL. This kind of tournament should be done every year and we all will support it,” he promised.
His son Ragava unfortunately bowed out in the U-14 first round in both the Chennai and the Kolkata legs but the father was still very upbeat about seeing him play at the remainder of the legs.
“Why would I want to bring my child to an event even after he has lost in the first round? It is because all the players participating in this tournament are of a high level unlike other lower-tier events. The competition here is very good and it gives my son a chance to improve,” he pointed out.
Some of the other kids were open about how much of a backbone their parents have been in helping their fledgling tennis careers soar higher. Swarnali Ghosh, a student of sixth standard at the Calcutta Girls’ High School, started her association with sports through table tennis. But tennis was always her first love, being bred on Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal’s heroics on the television.
Her parents finally gave in to her wishes and the young girl began honing her skills on the hardcourts of the BTA, the very venue where she played the HCL Tennis Junior Tour last week. It did not take long for her to show the spark and she quickly started scooping up medals in the U-10 age group. Today, her mother has sacrificed her job to devote her time to building her daughter’s career.
Throughout the entirety of the Kolkata leg, the dedicated mother was there for her child’s every step – from urging Swarnali on during her U-12 as well as U-14 matches to reminding her to relax before taking the court. Naturally, she was overjoyed to know that the media was covering her child’s efforts.
“The kids get motivated seeing their names on the internet,” Mrs. Ghosh admitted.
Some of the tennis parents were not lucky to see their kids coming through their matches. It was hard to see them dealing with the harsh reality of witnessing their children’s losses despite a copious amount of cheering from the stands. Madurai girl Anjani Mahesh, who has been playing tennis for three years now, showed signs of promise against the eighth-seeded Swarnali in their pre-quarter-final clash in the U-12 category. But she could not keep up the momentum, succumbing to a host of unforced errors.
Anjani’s mother unfailingly stuck with her throughout the encounter, entreating her daughter to focus when she was trailing and even shouting, “You play to win, you don’t give up.” The young Novak Djokovic admirer could not cross the hurdle in the end but that should not take anything away from the tireless endeavour of these determined parents as they try to guide their kids to the pinnacle of success.
The HCL Tennis Junior Tour has absolutely proved that parents are now eager to embrace the change. With a new outlook and a new approach, they are ready to go to any length to see their kids thrive. There is no doubt that the concerted efforts of the parents, the talented youngsters and such novel concepts such as this event will ultimately bear fruit in the long run.