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Tennis tragedy


The ongoing controversy in Indian tennis reflects, above all, the lack of bench strength in the game. India has a reasonable number of players and courts to be able to churn out sufficient numbers of quality players in every generation, but this is not happening. As a result, the dependence on the undoubtedly extraordinary ability of Leander Paes and the make-do performances of Mahesh Bhupathi only increases. Even ‘first round’ Sania gains extraordinary importance merely because she remains miles ahead of any other Indian player.
Their fate and fortunes would not matter much in the normal course, and their successes would be celebrated as mostly theirs, but for the fact that the expertise they have gained in the doubles and mixed doubles events provides a reasonable chance of winning medals in the coming London Olympics. This fact has enhanced their importance for the while and, sadly, they are not exactly showing up in good light. Nor are the strategists in the All India Tennis Association. No matter how patriotic they may be, how can Paes and Bhupathi be expected to play at their best together, when they can barely stand the sight of each other? The AITA has been extremely lazy in attempting to get India’s two best players to play together, when they could so easily get a winning combination together by sending players with compatible skills. Rohan Bopanna, for instance, has a tremendous serve and would do well with someone with high quality court craft and tactical ability like Paes. Then why try to repeat the past partnership of Paes and Bhupathi?
If India’s cricketing greats are enjoying long innings, it is because they are putting in the required level of performance, otherwise the kind of talent that is constantly emerging would put them out of a job soon enough. Unfortunately, in the case of tennis, players play well beyond their ‘use by’ date. After Vijay Amritraj, India has not had a top notch singles player. Even the Herculean fighting abilities of Leander Paes have not taken him to the highest leagues in this category. What could be the reason for this lack of new players? Is it because AITA does not have a plan to groom players, or lacks the ability to recognise talent worth investing in? The old situation in which players had to rise solely on the basis of their individual effort and ability continues to prevail, and nothing has been done to change it. AITA and the government of India only make an appearance when it comes to sharing the limelight.
The ongoing controversy should come as a wake up call for Indians. Tennis is a sport that India has traditionally done well in despite the small pool of players – perhaps the reason why AITA has not bothered to make much effort to boost the game. It is perfectly placed for exploitation by corporate money and marketing honchos in an environment when people are getting an overdose of cricket. India’s 300 million middle class can easily afford to play tennis and patronise it, yet, the sport has failed to draw the kind of following it has elsewhere. Big money is, instead, going to high cost sports such as golf and car racing. There is need for a ten year plan to involve the Indian public with the game and raise its competitive profile by publicising existing and upcoming talent. It is extraordinary that the over a dozen sports channels are content with focusing on televising past cricket matches or recorded athletic events, but cannot set up a network to bring the many under-appreciated sports in the country, including tennis, into the limelight. One can only conclude, there is a scam somewhere.

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