So here's a new post for Indian and South Asian Tennis players.
I don't know where to start but I thought Sania should not be the only topic for Indian/South Asian Tennis.
Sunitha Rao aiming to be India's number-two tennis player
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Kolkata - US-based Sunitha Rao wants to be India's second-ranked player after Sania Mirza for the next edition of the Federation Cup.
Rao got the third wild card for the Sunfeast Open, along with Ankita Bhambri and Shikha Oberoi. The Florida-based player of Indian origin has recently applied to play for India.
Talking to reporters on her arrival here, she said: 'I'm thrilled about the prospects of playing for India. I'd really love to wear the tricolour.'
'It'll take a couple of months I guess. Globosports is handling the issue for me.'
Asked whether she will represent India in the Federation Cup next year, she said: 'I'd love to. But I need to improve my rankings playing some matches over the next few months so that I am seeded second after Sania.'
Rao, who is currently ranked 221, played in the last edition of the Sunfeast Open also. She turned professional in 2004.
However, she was plagued by injuries from early this year till June.
'I had a problem in my abdomen. It was diagnosed and now I think I am fighting fit. At one point of time I was looking at retirement, but now it's a different story,' she said.
If all goes according to plan then Sania, Sunitha, and Shikha will be on next year's Fed Cup Team for India, possibly Neha too but I'm not sure if she will switch nationalities.
Dec 27th, 2006, 02:46 AM
In addition to Sunitha and Shikha, two other girls whom I think will show a lot of promise are Tara Iyer and Sandhya Nagaraj. Tara began the year unranked then moved into the 550's Sandhya is also ranked in the same region and won a 10K in Spain earlier this year. Hopefully 2007 will be a good year for India.
Jan 1st, 2007, 04:43 AM
Is there hope beyond Sania?
Aabhas Sharma / New Delhi December 31, 2006
Not right away, no, say industry watchers, but there are a few youngsters out there who bear watching.
The early history of Indian tennis was dominated by two dynasties — the Krishnans and the Amritrajs. Ramanathan Krishnan started it all, and his son Ramesh followed in his footsteps. Pretty much the same can be said for the Amritraj brothers, Anand and Vijay.
Although Vijay was the more prolific, Anand too made a name for himself. In the last decade, Leander Paes took Indian tennis to greater heights individually, and when he joined hands with Mahesh Bhupathi, the duo was unstoppable.
Sadly, the partnership hasn’t worked out, but when they did play together they were the most feared doubles team in the world. But ever since, there has been a lull.
Sania Mirza caught the nation’s attention but has had an indifferent 2006, and doubts about her consistency leave a question mark about her future. So who are the new kids on the block who represent the future of Indian tennis? Is there enough talent coming up after Lee-Hesh and little bit of Sania mania?
“One needs to understand that the right age to hone your skills in tennis is the 14-18 group,” says Anirban Das Blah, vice president, Globosport. And Blah, who has been keeping an eye out for promising youngsters in that age group, has trained his sights on 16-year-old Aakash Wagh from Pune and 14-year-old Kyra Shroff in girls tennis.
Globosport has seven tennis academies in the country and Blah feels that these two are the finest singles talent since Leander Paes and Sania Mirza.
Kyra Shroff, who is a juvenile diabetic, became the youngest under-18 national championship winner and is being trained by former Indian tennis player Gaurav Natekar.
“She has fantastic ability and if she remains on track, has the potential to be in the top 50 or maybe higher,” says Natekar, who represented India in several Davis Cup ties and heads the academies run by Globosport.
The names of Rohan Bopanna, Prakash Amritraj, Harsh Mankad and Sana Bhambri keep popping up on tennis courts. But Blah feels they no longer have the benefit of age. “They are talented players but age is not on their side.”
Blah is right. Bopanna is 25. Amritraj is 23. “They can still do good for the country and play the Davis Cup for India, but if we talk about the real future of Indian tennis then we have to look at kids under 18,” adds Natekar.
Aakash Wagh is another special talent, according to Natekar. He was handpicked by Bhupathi for his academy and since then has grown from strength to strength.
He is being sent to play tournaments in countries like Italy, Spain and Sweden and has been doing great there. “He has amazing court coverage and a giant serve, and has attitude and age on his side,” says Natekar.
Colonel R M Sharma, executive director, Asian Tennis Federation, who also looks after the All India Tennis Association academies, agrees with Natekar and Blah.
“While the present hopes might be dependent on Prakash and Rohan, one can’t classify them as the future.” He says that Prerna Bhambri is another fantastic talent in the making. “She has risen through the ranks and has the potential to do well for the country on the international stage.”
Balu Nair, managing director, IMG/TWI, feels that calling world class players to India could become a motivational factor. “If a nine-year-old sees Rafael Nadal playing in his town, he will be spurred on to take up tennis.”
According to him, Tara Iyer is another girl who has received rave reviews on the junior tennis circuit. “She moves well on court but her problem is consistency, which will improve with experience.”
Natekar feels that India will have to wait a couple of years before it sees world class tennis players. “We are a bit far from producing a great tennis player.” He blames the infrastructure and lack of motivation for kids to take up tennis.
“If Sania hadn’t burst on the scene, I doubt whether we would be talking about the future of Indian tennis.” But that is not enough, says Blah. “We should support the kids all the way if we want a future champion in tennis, but, honestly, we need to catch’em young and nurture them.”
Sharma says it is not as if the tennis association is not doing anything. “We have an excellent junior training programme in place, and the participation of kids has doubled in the last couple of years.”
But will Indian tennis be able to serve up a few aces, or is there no hope beyond Sania? Wait and watch — and keep your fingers crossed!
Kyra Shroff — 14 years
U-18 singles champion; U-14 singles champion; U-18 doubles champion with Kelsey Sundaram
Aakash Wagh — 16 years
U-18 national singles champion; semi-finalist in Mercedes Cup (Bangkok), ITF Challenger for Juniors; U-16 doubles champion with Varun Gunasheelan
Tara Iyer — 18 years
Represented India in the Junior Fed Cup for two years and qualified for the final playoffs in Europe; ranked 45 in ITF (International Tennis Federation) Juniors; ranked number one in Indian U-18; reached second round in Junior Grand Slams: US Open, French Open and Wimbledon
Prerna Bhambri — 14 years
U-14 champion in 2005; reached QF of U-14 Federation Cup; U-18 quarter finalist in singles; U-18 doubles semi-finalist
Jan 1st, 2007, 04:48 AM
Facilities aside, the key word is hunger
Sunday, December 31, 2006 23:59 IST
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Tennis | Slowly but surely Indian tennis is headed in the right direction
The second most frequent question I get from the media is ‘What happens to Indian tennis after Paes and Bhupathi?’ For the last 35 years we have always had someone to fly the flag. Vijay Amritraj thrilled with his serve and volley while Ramesh Krishnan’s touch is still talked about on tour today. Leander Paes arguably has the fastest hands the game has ever seen. Then, there is me and now we have our first woman tennis star in Sania Mirza. Three of us came from tennis playing families and Leander and Sania just had too much God given talent not to make it.
The structure of building a champion is really complex though slowly but surely Indian tennis is headed in the right direction. Most fans outside India would say that the five names mentioned above have not really achieved much compared to great champions. What they don’t realise is how far behind we are to the West when it comes to basics like physical fitness, mental toughness and nutrition.
I recently spent ten days at the LTA’s National Training centre in London and was amazed to see how coaches and trainers apply science to basic coaching with the aim of building the prefect tennis player. The LTA is the richest national federation in tennis and consequently have some of the top coaches and trainers in the world on their rolls. All the players undergo physical exams twice a year to determine what areas of their bodies need focus and how to replenish any missing vitamins and minerals. You would think a country that had this world-class facility added to a world-beating coaching staff would be churning out players like the Australian cricket team. The reality, however, is that we cannot even remember the last time an Englishman or woman won a Grand Slam title.
Facilities aside, the key word is hunger. Some countries have issues where there is no structure at all and some are fortunate enough to have one but the kids take it for granted and are not hungry enough to put in the work.
We are trying to implement a system in Bangalore at our Elite Academy hoping to find the winning formula. We have hand-picked 15 talented kids from across the country, hired the right coaching staff and support 8 kids through a trust: Foundation for Indian Sporting talent (FIST). The other kids pay the trust to play but know if they perform well, work hard and deliver results they will be added to the elite group who have all their expenses looked after.
Fortunately for me, my founding donors to the trust Nandan Nilekani and his wife Rohini watched me win the Mixed Doubles at Wimbledon in 2005, enjoyed it thoroughly and wanted to do something for the sport. They have kick-started it for us with a bang and already in year one we have two under-18 national champions in Akash Wagh and Kyra Shroff. Over the last few years the AITA under Anil Khanna has increased the number of lower level International tournaments in the country. These events give the kids exposure and match practice that is a must in any player’s development.
There is no doubt that we have the talent in the country and also have kids who have the hunger. I will keep talking to various corporates and wealthy individuals to fund the Trust and ideally we need to play the numbers game where we try to build 100 professionals and out of them one Grand Slam champion will be born. More and more of corporate India’s money is coming into the sport and the wave has started to roll. For us to successfully ride it for the next twenty years we need to establish a structure like Argentina, Spain and Russia that will allow for an assembly line of players. Clearly the goal is not to build national champions alone. With things falling into place the way they are, don’t be surprised if we see a new Indian singles Grand Slam champion over the next ten years.
Mar 22nd, 2007, 10:05 PM
Playing for India will be a dream fulfilled: Sunitha
Mumbai, March 21: The press release issued for the Mumbai University-ITF $25,000 Women’s Tennis Tournament being played at Kalina campus had a contrasting information. While it claimed that Sunitha Rao will be leading Indian challenge, the participating players’ list showed her as an American citizen.
But it seems the days of uncertainty for Sunitha Rao are almost over. The 21-year-old American player of Indian origin has been struggling since last four years to get the nod to play for India and the Asia-Oceania Group Group I Fed Cup qualifiers to be played at Christchurch next month might see Sunitha finally donning Indian colours.
“It will be a dream fulfilled,’’ said Sunitha on the sidelines of ongoing tournament where she lost in the second round. With a go-ahead from All-India Tennis Association (AITA) in her bag, she is waiting for the International Tennis Federation’s clearance. “It should happen in two week’s time, well before Indian team’s departure.’’
It has been a long drawn struggle for Florida-based Sunitha ever since her father Manohar for the first time proposed to AITA to include include her in Indian team. His demands in return for allowing Sunitha play for India were strange, wanting Rs five crore from AITA, which he claimed was spent on his daughter’s coaching expenses. AITA declined the offer and Sunitha was left in the dark.
In fact, things got worse when the United States Tennis Association (USTA), which was supporting her, learnt that Sunitha was trying to play for India. All the financial help and wild cards that she was eligible for were stopped. Sunitha, who was among top 25 ranked players in US in 2003, which included the likes of the Williams sisters, Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati, then left to fend for her own.
But now she doesn’t want to talk about those times. “It’s better we look forward to new goals,’’ points out Sunitha, who says her father has had a great impact on her career. “He is very demanding but that’s because he loves me so much.’’
Doesn’t that puts pressure on her? “No. I guess almost everyone needs a parent that is really involved and a little pushy. Most of the top players have had at least one parent who was like that.’’
“It’s difficult. You need lot of money to keep travelling. I travel for about 30 to 35 weeks in a year,’’ informs Sunitha, who now has a travelling coach in Florida-based American Bill Eastburn. “To pay for your coach while travelling also puts a huge burden on us,’’ she added.
Sunitha had attained a WTA ranking of 150 in 2003 but since then has struggled to keep it within 200. Right now she has a ranking of 221. “I had a stomach and a wrist injury in last two years and that hampered my progress, but now I aim to break into top 150 again by the year end.’’
Sunitha says Indian can go places in Fed Cup with players like her, Sania Mirza and Shikha Uberoi available for selections. “We can make a dream team for India,’’ she adds.
Mar 25th, 2007, 08:03 AM
shikha uberoi is also a talented player.She is cute and sexy also.But she lacks killer instinct
Mar 29th, 2007, 03:54 AM
Sunitha Rao in Fed Cup team
NEW DELHI: Sunitha Rao will spearhead the Indian team in the Fed Cup Asia-Oceania group `I' women's tennis competition at Christchurch, New Zealand, from April 18 to 21.
With Sania Mirza out with a knee injury, Shikha Uberoi, Ankita Bhambri and Tara Iyer will form the rest of the team.
"Looking at the draw and the team that we have, I am sure we will have a good Fed Cup. Chinese Taipei looks a tough team,'' said the captain of the Indian team, Enrico Piperno.
Piperno said that she may not be very high on confidence at the moment, but would definitely strengthen the team. — Special Correspondent
Jun 19th, 2007, 10:53 AM
Indian tennis is doomed for another 5 years or so... but watch out for Kyra Shroff after that...
Jun 21st, 2007, 07:32 PM
Tara confident of building on her maiden ITF title
‘A great motivation to see Sania doing so well’
‘I need to play the big points better’
TALENTED: Tara Iyer after a promising start to her career has had to wait a long time to find success.
NEW DELHI: She had always held promise, but Tara Iyer has just about started playing to potential, as she asserted herself by winning the singles title in the $10,000 ITF women’s tennis tournament in Portugal last week.
For someone who at the age of 14 had made the quarterfinals of a similar tournament in July 2003, in only her second professional event at Baltimore, it has been a long wait.
In fact, Tara also made it to the quarterfinals of a $25,000 tournament, beating Rushmi Chakravarthi and Sanaa Bhambri, in 2004.
“I am quite happy with this title. It is pretty big for me. This could have come a bit quicker, but I am not disappointed. I had lost lots of months because of a knee injury.
“I have worked pretty hard and am capable of improving further. I am looking forward to building on this title and winning more at higher levels,” said Tara talking to The Hindu.
“This was the fourth time I was making the semifinals, and I had learnt from previous experiences. It is satisfying,” said Tara, who made all her semifinals in the last few weeks in Indonesia and Portugal, after her morale-boosting stint with the Indian Fed Cup team in April. “It was really a great experience to be part of the Indian team. Shikha, Sunitha, Ankita and I cheered for each other,” said Tara, who won one of her two singles matches without dropping a game against Jordan, but lost the other match to the talented Albina Khabibulina of Uzbekistan.
Having lost to Sania Mirza in the final of an ITF grade I junior tennis tournament at Manila in April 2003, Tara has a lot of respect for the path-breaking efforts of Sania.
“It is a great motivation for us to see Sania doing so well. When I played her in the juniors I didn’t know that I was facing someone special. She has shown the way for all of us and it is very important for Indian women’s tennis,” stressed Tara.
Polish her game
Tara knows that she needs to polish her game a bit further to get more consistent results. “I need to play the big points better. That is what distinguishes the top players. I will try to come to the net more often, because I have strong ground-strokes,” said Tara.
Ranked 438 now, Tara believes that she can break into the top-200 before the year runs out, if she remains healthy and stays focused.
“I know it gets tough from here. All the big points are lying in the WTA events. I will work my way up,” Tara assured.
Aug 22nd, 2007, 03:27 AM
Tara, bright star in the making
Shows consistency, confidence after string of successes
NOIDA, August 20: WHEN Tara Iyer returned to professional tennis after an injury hiatus more than a year ago, she was without a single ranking point. She had to begin from the scratch then, but now she is at the best form of her career — her ranking of 409 confirming it. It could get only better if she keeps up the constant improvement.
This August, the 19-year-old picked up the singles title at the $10,000 ITF in Wrexham — her second this year after winning the crown in Portugal this June. “I’ve been playing in a lot of tournaments, and this has certainly helped improve my game. I am a lot more confident, and aggressive now. I have had to play tough matches at tournaments with success. This has also provided me a lot of encouragement. You need to know how to play the tough points,” Tara told Sportline after her match in the ITF tournament at the Noida Sports Stadium today.
Coached by her father and Aditya Sachdev at the Siri Fort Sports Complex, the Fed Cup player said she felt good about her current form. It definitely showed on the courts today as she dismantled her Thai opponent Sophia Mulsap with clinical precision. Powerful groundstrokes, particularly her forehand, played a big part in her 6-3, 6-2 win, and the confidence she alluded to was certainly in evidence. “I am feeling good about my game right now. I am having no trouble with my knees, and these bandages are purely a precaution,” she added, pointing to her knees.
A student of Duke University in the US, Tara is undecided about whether she will return to college tennis. “Probably not, but I can’t say for sure,” is what she said. Not that playing at NCAA wasn’t helpful. “Match practice can’t hurt, and I got a lot of that when I was playing for Duke. But ever since I have got back to professional tennis, I am working a lot harder than college now.”
At present, the going is good for Tara, but the youngster has set her sights on bigger things, and it is a step by step approach for this level-headed girl. “I want to play in more $25,000 tournaments, as they will help me improve ranking. My target is 250 by the end of the year.”
BANGALORE: The talented teenager from Mysore, Poojashree Venkatesh, who has received a direct entry to the girls singles event in the U.S. Open tennis championship slated in September, is overjoyed at the opportunity of playing in a Grand Slam.
“It was bit disappointing when I failed to get an entry into the French Open, but my subsequent good showing in ITF Grade II and III events has helped me clinch a spot, without having to slog through the qualifying rounds of the US Open,” said Poojashree in a chat with The Hindu.
The lanky lass towering over six feet, who packs a heavy punch on her forehand, felt that over the past few months her game has improved. “I am feeling much fitter and moving much faster,” she said.
Another plus point is that there more nip in her first serve and it showed in her recent sojourn to Egypt, where she won the singles title at Cairo in the ITF Grade II event and was a runner-up in the doubles. In the earlier week, she lost in the semifinals in singles and won the doubles title in a Grade III championship.
One factor that hugely helped Poojashree to find a place in the main draw at the US Open was her improved ranking. She is now ranked No. 65 on the ITF junior girls’ list above the cut-off mark of 70 for the main draw.
At 17, Poojashree now faces the prospect of playing the big league, namely the WTA Tour events next year. “If I have to make my mark , it has to be WTA.
Ranked around 850
“This year, I will select and play few more ITF events and in the next season, my junior events will be mainly Grand Slams and along with that, I plan to play the WTA championships. That’s where my future lies,” said the youngster, who is now ranked around 850 on the WTA list.
To go flat out
By the end of the season, Poojashree aims to break into the top 50 on the ITF junior list and then go flat out to improve her women’s singles ranking.
“Definitely, the focus will be different,” said Poojashree, whom tennis pundits tip as another Sania in the making.
“Yes, she can be another Sania... She has the same spirit, fighting qualities and talent, but short on exposure,” said her coach, Nagaraj.
Aug 22nd, 2007, 04:37 AM
I have heard she comes from a humble background. She looks good. I hope she improves quickly with good coaching and exposure.
Sep 5th, 2007, 02:04 AM
NEW DELHI: Tara Iyer capped her fine run with a brilliant performance as she outplayed Kyung-Yee Chae of Korea 7-5, 6-2 in the final of the $10,000 ITF women’s tennis tournament here on Saturday.
In the process, the 19-year-old Tara performed a hat-trick as she had won the singles titles in her last two tournaments at Wrexham and Noida over the past three weeks.
It was the fourth singles title at this level for the Delhi girl who is coached by her father Parameswaran Iyer and Aditya Sachdeva. She had won her maiden title in Portugal in June.
“These tournaments are stepping stones to get to the higher level and one has to go through them. I hope to do well in the bigger tournaments soon,” said Tara. She had won the doubles title on Friday with Nungnadda Wannasuk of Thailand.
Incidentally, Tara had dropped only one set the whole week in nine matches of singles and doubles — quite a creditable fare from the wiry girl who packs a punch in her serve and strokes.
Tara started on a bright note, as she served big and ran up a 3-1 lead, having broken the Korean at love in the opening game.
There was a brief spell of fluctuating fortunes as the Korean qualifier showed her fighting qualities to break back in the sixth game and served strongly to take a 5-4 lead, saving breakpoints in the seventh and ninth games. It was here that Tara stepped up her game and reeled off the next seven games, leaving the left-hander far behind in the race for the title.
Tara was at her fighting best in the 12th game, as she saved two breakpoints, and converted her second setpoint in style with an ace down the middle.
Once she changed her attire at the interval as she was drenched because of the high humidity, Tara just breezed through the second set, as she maintained the momentum.
Tara struck as many as 27 winners and served five aces. The Korean, not at her fighting best, hit 15 winners and four aces.
“I was tired coming into the match, but wanted to compete. I kept attacking though I was not getting everything right at the beginning. I did not hold back and I am glad that it proved right,” said Tara. She will be off to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on Sunday, for the $100,000 Asian Championship, in which the singles winners in the men’s and women’s sections get wild cards for the Australian Open.
Tara won her first match in Tashkent easily, hopefully she can get the WC, Iroda Tulyaganova is the top seed
— Photo: Stan Rayan
ANGAMALY: With Sania Mirza peeping out from newspapers almost every day, women’s tennis in the country may appear young and vibrant but there’s a seasoned lady dominating the domestic circuit.
At 30, an age when many young women are busy balancing their professional careers and home affairs, Rushmi Chakravarthi hasn’t lost her focus on court.
Living just a stone’s throw away from Vijay Amritraj’s house on Chennai’s Sterling Road, Rushmi was probably not short of inspiration when she took up the game nearly two decades ago.
“But I played tennis just for the fun of it,” says Rushmi, whose mother hails from Aluva, a few miles away from the tournament venue here.
A serious affair
Fun soon became a serious affair when the young girl began winning National titles, first at the under-14 level and later, twice in the under-16 age group. Being coached by Ilyas Hussain, once a wily player on the men’s circuit, Rushmi sharpened her game further and went on to win five senior National titles.
Rushmi is now on her own. “After so many years, you pretty much have to fend for yourself,” says the player who now has a World ranking of 514. Her career-best ranking, which came in mid-September 2004, was 310.
Rushmi is a fine link between the sport’s past and the present promising scene after the arrival of Sania. “Surely, things are a lot better now for youngsters,” says the Deputy Manager, Administration, with the Indian Oil Corporation.
So, why aren’t we getting more Sanias? When will the next one show up? “Of course, there is talent,” says Rushmi.
Strangely the money in the domestic circuit has not kept pace with the sport’s popularity or rise. “Two years ago, when I won the grass court National in Kolkata, the prize-money was Rs. 80,000 but when I last won the same championship in New Delhi last December, it was just Rs. 20,000,” says Rushmi.
“In fact, I stopped playing the National championships for three years after 2002 because I didn’t get anything from them.”
Life on the circuit is very expensive. “You have to pay for your accommodation food and travel. It’s okay if you’re winning consistently, you may break even or probably make some money, but for the others it’s very, very tough. And with the dollar going down, the prize-money in the ITF circuit is going down too,” says Rushmi. So what keeps Rushmi going? “Just the love of the game.”
Dec 26th, 2008, 10:07 PM
Note: S.Uberoi stated later that she will give up her US passport if she has to.
Non-citizen Amritraj barred from wearing India colours
3 hours ago
NEW DELHI (AFP) — A government order unveiled Friday that bars non-natives from representing India could deny Prakash Amritraj a place on India's Davis Cup squad.
The sports ministry release said: "Players who are Indian citizens only can avail themselves of government assistance to represent the country in the national teams representing the country."
It effectively rules out Amritraj, 25, a US citizen who was born in Encino, California, from starting a sixth year on India's Davis Cup team in 2009 or playing for the country in the Olympics or the Asian Games.
The 210-ranked Amritraj, whose father Vijay was one of India's most popular tennis stars, last played for the country in the Davis Cup world group play-off against Romania in Bucharest in September.
India lost the tie 1-4 and will continue in the Asia-Oceania Zone group 1 rounds next year.
Three women tennis players, Sunitha Rao, Shikha Uberoi and her sister Neha, will also be barred from representing India since they are all US citizens
Oct 6th, 2011, 09:44 AM
I recently found out a dedicated website for Indian Tennis. This was actually missing earlier.
It has a lot of information about tennis from Indian prepective and details of local tournaments such as AITA, ITF, CBSE. Tournament details and schedules are posted regularly. I also found out that they have a section in which you can find a tennis partner/coach/academy around your area. I suggest people looking for such information should definetly join this group.
While Indian women’s badminton has already found the successors to Saina Nehwal in the form of world no. 16, P V Sindhu, and other upcoming players such as P C Thulasi and Arundhati Pantawane, Indian women’s tennis has remained a one-woman show. So what happened to women’s tennis and the promise that it showed with the advent of Sania Mirza? There was a time in 2007 when we had 3 female players in the top 200 (Sania Mirza, Shikha Uberoiand Sunitha Rao) and just 1 male player in the top 300 (Rohan Bopanna). The picture, since then, has changed dramatically with men’s tennis finding new stars like Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri and the women’s side failing to retain even the most talented. The picture is so horrifying that at one time in 2011, we had no player in the top 650 after Mirza. Now, of course, she has given up singles and we have 2 players in the top 500 (Rishika Sunkara and Ankita Raina) to carry the nation’s hopes in that category.
But what really happened to Indian women tennis? To understand it, one needs to retrospect a bit.
In 2006, India’s Fed Cup team did what they had never done before – finish as runners-up – in the Asia-Oceania Group I, thanks to the efforts of Shikha Uberoi and Sania Mirza. Similar results followed in the Doha Asian Games where the team clinched silver. In 2007, despite Sania’s absence, our team finished a creditable 4th in the Fed Cup Group I. This period also coincided with several WTA events in the country. In 2008, however, a bizarre rule formulated by the Sports Ministry after the Beijing Olympics made it mandatory for players representing India to hold Indian passports. Indian tennis was the worst hit with both Shikha and Sunitha termed ineligible to play in Fed Cups. In the men’s team, Prakash Amritraj was the biggest casualty. Incidentally, Sunitha Rao achieved her career-best ranking of 140 in the same year and beat Petra Kvitova (the future Wimbledon Champion) in Birmingham even as Shikha Uberoi was plagued by several health issues. As a result of this, in 2009, in the absence of Sania Mirza, the team suffered relegation to Group II. Since then, every alternate year we have made it to Group I, only to be relegated the next year. But is the new rule entirely to blame for the current scenario? How did the men’s side cope so well?
Had one looked beyond Shikha Uberoi and Sunitha Rao, one would have found a highly talented group of Indian girls ready to enter the big stage. Remember Ankita Bhambri’s heroics against Kaia Kanepi in the WTA Bangalore and against Aravane Rezai in WTA Kolkata? Incidentally, both Kanepi and Rezai have, since then, made it to top 20. Isha Lakhani was in fact, the only one among Sania’s peers to have cracked the top 300 in singles. Another name that made quite a noise, even impressing Flavia Penneta in the 2007 Sunfeast Open, was Tara Iyer. Since then, Iyer made a brief appearance in 2010 Asian Games, only to slide into oblivion once again. Ankita and Isha have now taken to coaching while Ankita’s sister, Sanaa (who made the semis in the French Open 2003 Junior doubles with Sania), is into US college tennis. More recently, in the later part of 2009, Poojashree Venkatesha emerged as a leading force and was on the verge of breaking into top 300 when she got injured. The 21-year-old is yet to play in 2013. The sudden vacuum was evident in 2010 when a 33-year-old Nirupama Sanjeev came out of retirement to play in the CWG and Asian Games. In the next year, Lakhani made a mini-comeback by reaching the finals of the Nationals and was expected to partner Sania in the Olympics, thereby earning a place in the Fed Cup team in 2012. In the end though, it was left to the 34-year-old Rushmi Chakraborty to do the honours with Sania at London. One wonders if the “lack of hunger”- as cited by many – is really the cause of the pathetic state of Indian women tennis. But if a 34-year-old can continue playing, what prompts the younger ones to give up so easily? Lack of financial support or just our mind-set about women’s sports in India? In a recent interview to Neo Prime, Shikha Uberoi cited how they struggled for sponsors even as the limelight was focused on just one person.
The immediate scene is slightly encouraging. Ever since winning the Nationals at the age of 15, Rutuja Bhosale has established her position firmly in the Fed Cup team. In the Australian Open 2012 juniors, she made the doubles semis, and that helped her achieve a career-best of 55. Last year, she was the only Indian woman to reach Round 2 in the WTA Challenger held in Pune. However, since then, Rutuja has not played much, especially skipping juniors’ events. Perhaps due to Fed Cup coach, Enrico Piperno’s advice, she is now back in the juniors’ circuit. Having won the Asian Junior Championship in 2011, Rutuja is expected to play in this year’s edition as well, starting from 15th April in Delhi. Rutuja though, is not the only prodigy in Indian women tennis. Ratnika Batra won the Nationals at the age of 14 in 2008, albeit in a much depleted field. Last year, she made it to round 2 of the French Open Juniors singles – something which perhaps even Sania could not do in her junior days. Since then however, Ratnika (who has a career best of 39 in juniors) has not played in the senior circuit. One wonders where she is. Last year, evenKyra Shroff made a much awaited breakthrough, beating a top 300 player in ITF Banglore. For a short while this year, she was also India’s No 1, with Sania taking a break from singles. But these are only consolatory answers, not solutions to the problems of Indian women tennis. We have lost the Shikhas, the Sunithas and the Poojashrees. Let’s not lose the Rutujas and the Ratnikas.
Aug 6th, 2013, 08:14 AM
Few photos of Ankita Raina (Koksijde) - https://www.dropbox.com/sh/pbt4qqymxkm2k3n/HZbpMaHOG6/Flanders%20Ladies%20Trophy%20Koksijde%20%2713/Ankita%20Raina