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With proper funding, India can soon have a champion singles player: An interview with India's Davis Cup team coach

In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Zeeshan Ali opened up about the problems faced by young Indian tennis players.

Exclusive 07 Apr 2017, 16:34 IST
The Indian Davis Cup team

Amidst the IPL 2017 fever, the cricket loving city of Bengaluru gears up for the first home match of the season at the M Chinnaswamy stadium on April 8th. What many people might not know is that just a few hundred metres away from the cricket stadium, the Indian doubles team would be playing their all-important Davis Cup encounter against their opponents in a bid to re-enter the World Group.

However, they will have their task cut-out as they will be missing Yuki Bhambri who has been extremely impressive over the past few months. The former World No. 88 was ruled out of the tie due to a knee inflammation.

Leander Paes, who is India’s most successful doubles player was dropped from the tie by captain Mahesh Bhupathi in controversial circumstances. The onus will be on Ramkumar Ramanathan, India’s No. 1 singles player to lead the singles charge.

Extra Cover: Davis Cup: Leander Paes questions Mahesh Bhupathi's style after being left out of squad

The entire team were present at the unveiling of the Zeven Store in Brigade Road in Bangalore on April 4th and spoke exclusively to Sportskeeda.

“There’s always pressure so you have to try and play well and try to get the win for the country,” said Ram. “I just have to be fit and play all throughout the year and win some matches in the next few weeks and get my confidence back,” he continued.

Rohan Bopanna will play the doubles tie along with Sriram Balaji or Prajnesh Gunneswaran – both who have never played a 5-setter so far.

“They’ve been training for 20 years for the opportunity to play in the Davis Cup, not just for the last few days. They are very fit individuals,” said Bhupathi, the non-playing captain.

The Indian tennis conundrum

Ramkumar Ramanathan is India’s No.1 singles player

Ramkumar, who is India’s No. 1 singles tennis player, currently is ranked 264 in the world. As fans, we cannot help but wonder as to why India has not been able to produce a single tennis champion ever.

Yuki Bhambri, who was going through a decent run of form, was out injured recently and was ruled out of the tie. For fans who have followed Indian tennis for the past six years or so, they would all remember the fact that Yuki was the junior World No. 1 and won the junior Australian Open as well.

With the way he began his career, he should have gone on to become the next big thing in world tennis, competing along the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, right?

Let’s get one thing straight. There is no shortage of talent amongst the Indian tennis players. Ramkumar has a big serve and an incredible forehand whereas Yuki’s defensive style of play with a solid serve is a treat to watch. Their technique is top notch and on their day they can give a few of the big guns a run for their money. 

So, where has it gone wrong?

One of the main reasons why India has not produced a world-class singles player is because of the lack of financial backing from the Indian government and companies.

Tennis has always been a sport where one needs to invest a large amount of money to be successful. There are private firms which promote athletes across various disciplines with the intention of helping players achieve international success.

Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, India’s Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali opened up about the importance of funding.

“I think that’s restricted to tennis but all sports in India face this problem. The role of the government and private companies and other federations is extremely important,” said Ali.

“Without their help and support, whether it’s India or any other country in the world, it’s very difficult to take the sport to the masses and have top champions come out,” he continued.

Despite these companies existing, they are not ready to financially invest into singles tennis players in India citing that they are not capable of achieving an Olympic medal.

This is also a possible reason for many children not taking up tennis despite being interested and emotionally invested in the sport. There is a need for these companies to invest in such players so as to improve the level of singles play in India.

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 the 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.

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.

Over the past couple of years of so, we have had companies like Globosport and JSW come out and support tennis players and this has helped in the growth of tennis in India. 

Sumit Nagal, the exciting 19-year-old, who is sponsored by JSW sports and Mahesh Bhupathi’s company, has made great strides and has the potential to go a long way in his career.

There is an urgent need for such companies to come out and sponsor tennis players if we want to see a rise in the number of singles players taking up the sport.

“It’s always great to have other companies to come and support the game that’s the only way any sport in the country is going to grow,” said Ali.

“Tennis is obviously growing at a very rapid rate not only in major cities but in smaller cities as well. The proof of that is when we play the Davis Cup in smaller cities such as Indore. The crowd has been there in huge support and that’s been good for tennis,” he concluded.

As fans of the sport, we can only hope that the government and public and private organisations realise their importance to support these players right from the very beginning. One cannot expect miraculous achievements in such a sport without there being any backing.

The singles format in 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 all of us. 

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