Impressive record in doubles
When we think of the big names inthe current scenario of Indian tennis – Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna – we see a total of 25 Grand Slam titles, all of those being doubles titles.
That is a very impressive number, but you cannot help wondering as to why none of them have done well in singles. In fact, since the time of Ramanathan Krishnan, and probably Vijay Amritraj as well, no Indian has done well in singles. Why is that the case?
Come to think of it, Paes started off as a singles specialist where he tasted a lot of success, winning the junior Wimbledon and US Open titles, and performing exceptionally well in the Davis Cup too. To top it all, he won the singles bronze medal at the 1996 Olympics. But he switched to doubles, partnering with Mahesh Bhupathi, and the duo went on to become the World No. 1 doubles team for a long time.
Paes says the reason why he decided to switch to doubles was because he knew there were medals there, and he was right – he has so far racked up 13 Grand Slams.
Even Sania Mirza did have considerable success in her singles career, beating the likes of Maron Bartoli, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva and reaching a top ranking of 27 at one point of time. But injuries took a toll on her due to which she decided to switch to doubles, where she is enjoying a lot of success, recently winning the US Open mixed doubles championship.
Devvarman and Bhambri have not delivered
Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri are the current top level Indian singles players, both of whom have failed to make it big. Devvarman did have some sparks in his career, reaching the finals of the Chennai Open in 2009, winning the gold at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in 2010 and reaching a career high rank of 62 in 2011.
But it has all faded away now, as a win is hard to come by for him.
There were also a lot of hopes on Yuki Bhambri to make it big after his sensational Australian Open Juniors title, but it has been all downhill for him since then. He has so far failed to even qualify for a Grand Slam.
Indians CAN do it
All of this raises the question whether Indians are physically fit enough to handle the singles game. The number of injuries Mirza faced through her singles career makes one wonder. People around the world have started to declare there will never be an Indian singles tennis champion for the simple reason that they cannot handle the physical aspect of the game long enough.
But if Ramanathan Krishnan could do it in the 1950s, and Paes do it in the early 1990s, I really don’t see a reason as to why there will not be an Indian singles tennis player who can't handle the physical rigours of the game. The future stars from India will definitely need the full support of the AITA to do this.
Apollo had launched a “Mission 2018” to produce a singles Grand Slam champion from India by the year 2018, but this mission has all but failed after two years of its initiation. There is a need for these types of “missions” as they can provide the financial stability to those players who are determined to do well in singles.
A survey shows that Indian players have to spend a whopping Rs. 50 lakh to just stay afloat in the tennis circuit, and that too with little hope of recovering any money. Due to this, there are a lot of players who decide to quit the game after playing it for a few years. That is why there is an urgent need for the AITA to step in and take some action.
The disavantage of playing too much doubles
Another reason for the relatively poor performance of Indian singles players is the shortage of quality tennis courts in India. They are in short supply, and most of them belong to exclusive clubs, and in these clubs, people grow up playing the doubles game. If a player grows up playing the doubles game, he/she ends up having a stronger side on the court, making his/her other side weak.
Let’s take an example: if you are a right-handed player and your forehand service return is better than that off your backhand, you might choose to play doubles in the deuce court, whereas your partner will handle the ad court. But in singles, you have to constantly switch between the two.
These weaknesses can be seen in some of the Indian players as well. Sania Mirza has a strong forehand but a weak backhand. Rohan Bopanna has a massive serve, but his overall game does not match that. For someone who wants to excel in singles, he/she has got to have a good overall game, and not just one strength.
While playing singles, you are out there on the court all by yourself with thousands of people watching you play for hours at a stretch, battling all your mental problems on your own, without a partner. The toll on the player’s body is far more than it would be in any other sport.
Indeed, the singles game of tennis is probably one of the toughest to play in the world of sport, but the feeling one gets after winning is at a whole different level. And to see an Indian do it in the future, well, that would be a dream come true for me!