Blog by: Roh
A third US Open Men’s doubles title and 14 major doubles’ titles later, 40-year old Leander Paes can proudly – and justifiably – say that age is just a number. For so long now, he’s been the shoulder on which Indian tennis has rested and his win at the 2013 US Open only went to emphasise his contribution towards the sport, an entire nation and its people.
Paes’ contribution, on the other hand, also reflects a certain antipathy about the sport’s existence and its continued peripheral residence within the nation’s sporting ambit. For a nation that has been churning out tennis marvels – both in the men’s and women’s game – even setting a few international records in the process, it’s sad to notice the dearth of infrastructure to ensure the sport’s growth and development.
In comparison to the Western world where tennis is placed on an equal footing with other sports, in India, tennis finds itself losing out to other sports, more often than not. As seeped in as cricket and football are within the Indian community with youngsters keenly set up smaller cricketing and football teams in each and every locality and emulating larger-than-life names associated with these two sports globally; tennis often finds itself labelled as a ‘rich man’s sport.’ While this may be true enough considering the high initial investment required, one cannot deny the fact that even in schools and colleges it’s predominantly cricket and football that tend to take centre-stage leaving tennis isolated leaving pre-conceived notions to swirl about taking up the sport.
The unavailability of more grass-root organisations to ensure that tennis is offered as a choice of sport needs is an issue that needs to be addressed as promptly as possible. Rather than allow the perception to linger that tennis is indeed a sport for the well-to-do families, it’s important that its appeal is spread far and wide by providing basic opportunities in schools and even privately. This would thus help people to not just develop an interest in the sport – even perhaps accounting for their potential growth as a professional in its ranks – but also follow it actively rather than merely displaying cursory attentiveness.
Such grass-root opportunities then need to be provided not just in metro cities but also in smaller townships so that potentially talented youngsters in these areas don’t lose out on because of lack of availability of infrastructure. Furthermore, as seen in the Western countries, where college level tennis tournaments are highly popular, a similar kind of system too needs to come up in India. The likes of Leander Paes, Rohan Bopanna and Mahesh Bhupathi, and even Sania Mirza and Somdev Devvarman wouldn’t then be the only ones to showcase as examples but more numbers of gifted tennis prodigies can be expected to represent the country as successfully as these athletes, possibly even more.
For time, continues to pass by, fast as ever. Even as the entire country basks in the achievement of Leander Paes, there’s the unmistakable fact that Bhupathi has bid the sport the proverbial adieu. The playing field does have an eerie absence even though names like Divij Sharan, Yuki Bhambri do look promising enough to provide for a better horizon for the future of Indian tennis. But just this eventuality has come to occur; the nation would have to deal with Leander Paes’ absence at some unnamed future date. Allowing for lapses by way of not substantiating the inherent talent pool that may otherwise go unaccounted for would then indeed shape the future of Indian tennis – to its absolute detriment.
By awarding tennis players the highest of national sporting awards then isn’t enough as far as acknowledgements go and then passing over them, as if prioritising other sports. Acknowledging the contribution of these players then needs to be demonstrated more tangibly by elevating the sport from its current place in the nation’s sporting hierarchy to a more predominant position; as it so rightfully deserves.