Tennis Expert Views
My vision is to build an athlete development structure: Rosemary Owino
Kenya is a country known for an abundance of talent, especially in the sports industry but harnessing that potential is one of the challenges the country has faced for a long time. Kenyan tennis players are yet to make a significant mark in the field but efforts are being made to produce future Grand Slam winners who will pave the way for future generations to consider the sport as a viable career option.
In this exclusive interview, Kenyan tennis coach Rosemary Owino speaks about the potential in her country, mental training, overcoming challenges, the need for better infrastructure and her short/long term goals in tennis.
Q 1) As a tennis coach in Kenya, how much potential do you see in the country and do you believe we can see a Grand Slam winner from Kenya in the future?
There is a lot of potential in Kenya, not only as far as tennis is concerned, but in all the sports. Definitely our weather and altitude might have a lot to do with it but also the culture of our people, of discipline and also the in-built desire to make something better of ourselves and of our society or surroundings. I mean, who ever thought we could have one of the best sprinters in the world, one of the best actresses in the world, and well, I guess the whole world does expect us to have the best long distance runners in the world….so hey, tennis is only but an honest attempt away.
Q 2) Apart from fitness training, how do you provide mental training to aspiring tennis players so that they can go on to compete at the highest level?
We try to ensure that the players understand what areas of their mental training they need to focus on seasonally and ensure that they include this in their daily practices. We help them to understand that mental skills are as important as tactical and technical training on a daily basis and give them responsibilities to ensure that they carry this out. All the way from goal setting for the season and sessions as they would for a match to preparedness for practice as they would for matches and daily routines and general body language and attitude at every session. We also occasionally hold seminars for the players, parents and coaches to cover different sessions on the same to ensure that everyone on the players support system understands the different ways that we can all work with the players in these areas.
Q 3) As a tennis coach at Tennis Kenya, what are some of the major challenges you have faced? How can they be rectified?
One of the biggest challenges has been helping parents and schools find a balance between school and sport for the players. The education system in Kenya is very vigorous and combined with the traffic issues, our young players are barely able to make it to the clubs for training. The fact that the tennis courts are also not easily accessible makes it more difficult to ensure that players are getting a chance to play during the week. What this means is most of our players can only train during the weekends and also for most coaches, those who do not coach at schools, the business of tennis becomes only a weekend one. The ripple effect goes all the way to tournaments, even the few we have, our players struggle to attend and therefore all round sports development is an issue because of this.
How can they be rectified? First of all, it is important to share the benefits of exercise and sports to a wider extent with the education department so we can all find a middle ground/balance for the players. Then probably build a centre if possible in each county where we as a federation can have our best juniors training together from each region and then with a healthy competition calendar for them all year round, and coaches education, for sure we can have that Grand Slam junior from Kenya in the future….we already have aspiring ones….more to come….there is belief and hope, there is a light.
Q 4) Do you believe that Kenya needs a better tennis infrastructure for aspiring players to thrive?
Yes we do, however what is more important is that we need to improve on all the pillars for tennis as a sport in development in Kenya. This entails bettering our coaches education and development programs, organisational and club structures to support tennis. Improve structures from financial support to talent identification and general development systems and ensure that they are functional. We must also improve on our competition structures locally, even as we look at the international events and compete in them. It is also important that as we focus on developing high performance structures and athletes, we also have to grow participation in the sport, so yes, we do need to improve our infrastructure for players to thrive but we also need to do a lot more within the same system for the environment to be conducive for the players to thrive and for there to be consistency in the thriving.
Q 5) What are some of your short and long term goals for the future? How do you plan to achieve them?
One of my short/long term goals is to help my federation develop a manageable Long Term Athlete development structure and to help get the coaches, clubs and schools implement it in their physical education curriculum. The implementation bit falls into my long term goal as looking at our systems at the moment, this could take two to five years. I hope to first of all attempt to make the acting technical directorship job which I currently hold and is a volunteer post at the moment a full time job so activating some of these ideas and making time and getting a team to implement them becomes easier. One of my very long term goals is to see one of our own players, not necessarily my own, get into the top 100 WTA and ATP and I strongly believe that this is possible if we are able to get a functional system in place…which we are working towards daily.
Regaining my ranking is my top priority - Vimalraj Jayachandran
Vimalraj Jayachandran is one of the country’s rising stars in Tennis, he has been associated with the sport since his childhood. He considers Gael Monfils as his idol for his court coverage, energy and interactions with the crowd. The 25 year old also runs TEE TO Z, a startup which designs all kinds of clothing.
In this exclusive interview with SPOGO, Vimalraj shares his journey on and off the Tennis courts, cricket getting all the attention in the country, running a startup and his future goals in the sport.
Q 1) How did you start playing Tennis and when did you plan to take it up professionally?
I started playing tennis at a very young age but I had briefly stopped playing the sport because I lost my racket. I resumed playing in 3rd grade when I was 9 years old. I started playing professionally at the age of 14 and subsequently started winning national level matches and events which gave me a lot of confidence.
Q 2) Which type of courts are you most comfortable on and how is it better suited than the others?
I prefer playing on clay courts as the ball usually comes slower than other surfaces and it suits my playing style. I tend to use a lot of topspin on my shots which makes the ball bounce higher so it is easier for me. On the other hand I’m a counter puncher, so it tends to be easier to receive, strike and slide easily on the clay courts and to keep on rallying. I'm actually improving on all surfaces but if I’m being honest then grass courts are also my favourite but the problem is that there aren’t many grass courts in India. I have only played once on a grass court but loved the feel of it. I have played a lot of matches on clay and that's where I am most comfortable.
Q 3) With the lack of exposure to the sport in the country, how difficult is it for a player to gain points on tour?
I think our country should support other sports as much as they support cricket or at least somewhat comparable. There is not much support for other sports financially and even crowd wise everything is just cricket and it is very annoying for other athletes. Even though we play professionally it's tough to get sponsors to go abroad and play. Tennis is a very expensive sport and I don't think the government is supporting our athletes enough. It is very difficult to score points because you need to travel abroad very often to get those points. You need to travel every month and play 2-3 ITF tournaments to get those ATP points. It requires a lot of money and that is why every player needs sponsors.
Also read: I want to gain points to compete at the highest level - Meiraba Luwang
Q 4) What have been some of your most prized moments over the past few years?
I would say winning Khelo India was very good for me as I felt very proud and I really enjoyed playing it. During the finals I had a full body cramp and I was with 3 or 4 physios to play the doubles finals and we won the tournament so it was an amazing experience. Another one was when I played well in China, I also faced the top seed but couldn't take the match towards my side. My entire journey itself has been amazing and when I look back at it there is a smile on my face no matter what the consequences and hurdles. It's always a pleasure to have had that journey.
Q 5) What are some of the challenges that you have faced in your journey so far and how did you overcome them?
Playing any other sport professionally other than cricket in India is itself a major obstacle to pass through. Being able to play the sport for a prolonged period of time without financial support is a challenge as there isn't sufficient funding for the players. It becomes a barrier when you want to play more matches or events.
These experiences are part of the reason why I started my own business a few months ago. It is a startup called TEE TO Z which is into cloth manufacturing. It has helped me financially as the number of clients are slowly increasing. In my game, I'm focusing on playing more aggressively on court and try to play as many matches as possible on tour.
Q 6) What are your short term and long term goals and how do you plan on achieving them?
I suffered an ACL tear recently which put me out of competition for six months although it did not require surgery as it healed through time. It certainly affected my mind as it was my first injury and made me question my future in the sport. In my comeback, I played a few tournaments and my form was decent which put my mind back at ease.
The short term goals would be to play more matches in the ITF circuit and regain my rankings on tour as I haven't played specific events due to financial restraints. In the long term goals, I want to enter the top 1000 of the rankings by the end of this year.
Our goals and objectives are to create for tennis what the IPL Cricket has done for cricket - Mark Milne, creator of Thirty30 (T30) Tennis
In a world of instant gratification, many traditional sports formats seem outdated to the younger generation. The idea of waiting for five days for a Test cricket result, only for the match to end in a draw seems bizarre to say the least, resulting in the T20 format being widely adopted in international and domestic matches to generate interest in the sport. Similarly, a rugby union match lasts for at least 80 minutes but a sevens match consists of two halves of seven minutes with a two-minute halftime break. There are many other sports that have adapted to a shorter format so that games are more competitive, intense and provide instant results.
In this exclusive interview with SPOGO, Mark Milne, creator of Thirty30 (T30) Tennis speaks about how his format is different from the traditional way the sport is played, the inspiration behind creating a shorter format, his vision, overcoming challenges, future goals and more!
Q 1) As the creator of Thirty30 Tennis, what is the difference between this format and the traditional way tennis is played?
The distinguishing difference between Thirty30 ("thirty-thirty") tennis and traditional tennis is that matches are shorter and faster-paced, making the tennis more fun and more exciting.
The game score ticks over much more quickly. One set is completed in no longer than 20 minutes, with a best-of-3 sets match completed in 40-60 minutes and a best-of-5 in 60-90 minutes.
In Thirty30 tennis, everything is identical to traditional tennis except:
(1) Every "SHORT GAME" starts from 30-30 (announced "thirty-thirty" - the clue is in the name!) instead of 0-0.
(2) A 9-point tie-break (i.e. first to 5 points with sudden death at 4-4) is played at 6 games all in a set.
(3) In a set, the change of ends is after the first two games and then every four after that.
All very simple!
Q 2) Why did you feel the need to create a shorter format of the sport? Do you believe it’s a format that will garner appeal amongst the younger audience who prefer more action packed sporting events?
The tennis authorities have recognised for a number of years that matches have been lasting too long to attract the younger generation who are looking for more excitement in today's faster paced society.
Many sports have also recognised this and have created their own alternative shorter faster-paced formats, e.g. racket sports similar to tennis like squash, badminton and table tennis have all changed their scoring methods in an effort to evolve.
Others include: Cricket (Twenty20/T20, T10, The Hundred), Golf (Golf Sixes), Netball (Fast5), Tennis (Fast4 and Tie Break Tens), Rugby (Sevens), Basketball (3x3), Athletics (Nitro).
Various alternative shorter scoring formats are currently being used and trialled in tennis:
(1) Tennis Australia's Fast4 - sets are played to 4 games with a tie-break at 3-3 and sudden-death points played at deuce. Fast4 has led to the following Rules being included in Appendix V (Alternative Scoring Methods) of the ITF Rules of Tennis: 'Sets to 4 Games', 'No Ad' and 'No Let'.
(2) The use of the match deciding 3rd set Match Tie Break to 10 points, e.g. Laver Cup, ATP Cup, ATP & WTA Doubles Events, etc.
(3) The use of the 'No Ad' Rule, e.g. ATP & WTA Doubles Events, etc.
(4) Patrick Moroutoglou's Ultimate Tennis Showdown's four 8 minute timed quarters using tie breaks like scoring and use of 'playing cards'.
Thirty30 (or T30) tennis is an alternative shorter scoring format to the formats listed above and in my opinion is the Rolls Royce of shorter scoring methods as Thirty30 tennis maintains the DNA of traditional tennis and match results look identical.
Everything about Thirty30 tennis still FEELS, LOOKS and SOUNDS like traditional tennis and EVERY Point REALLY Counts!
Q 3) What is your vision for Thirty30 Tennis? Is this meant to be a recreational format of tennis or do you envision it to be adopted professionally as well?
My vision for Thirty30 tennis is to see it used all over the world as an alternative shorter scoring method, played socially and competitively by recreational players and played competitively by professional players.
Q 4) What are some of the challenges that you have faced in introducing the Thirty30 Tennis format? How did you overcome them?
Tennis is just a hobby for me and I have a great passion for it. I am a Mechanical Design Engineer with over 30 years experience working in both the Steel and Oil & Gas Industries in Scotland and finding enough time to spend on promoting Thirty30 tennis has been the hardest thing about launching Thirty30 tennis. Currently I am spending almost 100% of my spare time working on it.
A lot of tennis people are risk averse and unwilling to accept change in the sport.
People fundamentally don’t like change and it is very difficult to get people to accept change in any walk of life, never mind tennis.
However I am convinced that tennis has to adapt and evolve in order to stay successful and this drives me and the project forward.
Q 5) Do you have plans to expand the Thirty30 Tennis format to other countries?
Thirty30 tennis is already being played all over the world. I have received almost 300 Testimonials endorsing the format, as illustrated on the attached "Google Maps" file.
Q 6) As the creator of Thirty30 Tennis, what are your future goals and objectives with regards to this format? How do you plan to achieve them?
Our goals and objectives are to create for tennis what the IPL Cricket has done for cricket. We are going to be the T30 of tennis, and we are doing it on a global basis. We are doing this in two structures. Physical Competitions and Virtual Reality. For Virtual Reality we are in a joint venture with VRML Tennis Esports. Whatever we create for the physical will be done in virtual on the VRML platform.
We have created a unique and highly innovative global competition model, using the Thirty30 Tennis scoring format, and a very similar structural IPL as a model.
The competitions will have a unique and innovative structural model.
They will have a pyramid structure with Top Professional Teams at the top going to Inter Continental, Country, City, and Club. There will be Junior and Adult identical models.
The competition structure will be Mixed Gender based teams in a League and knockout format. We will add a wheelchair component as well.
There will be very substantial prize money in all competitions.
We also want to introduce a unique and innovative ownership model whereby the players will be able to have a significant role in the running of the whole concept which we have called T30TI to be known in the future as T30.
There will also be a significant role for coaches, and the introduction of The Martial Art Way of Tennis, that will not only create a whole paradigm shift in the game, but will take the game both long and short into a whole new dimension, and will give coaches and teachers an opportunity to create a whole new meaning and understanding to coaching life and business.
We want to unlock the game at all levels, especially from the junior level. We want it to be affordable and believe the children are our future and they get the necessary skills to be that future whether that be in the Thirty30 format or the traditional game, and also give skills for life.
The IPL cricket concept has done more for that sport than in any other sport, we want to bring that opportunity to tennis, and let it be shared with all who would like to participate in a positive way to create a better and more equitable sport set against the highest ethical and moral standards.
Our aim is to increase participation and grow the sport - Prasad Kapre, CEO at touchtennis India
In India, where sporting infrastructure has been a perennial problem combined with the population, tennis has always been regarded as a rich man’s sport. After all, having access to a tennis court is not for the ordinary public and hiring a coach to teach the nuances of the game makes it quite an inaccessible sport to many. However, touchtennis is a wonderful alternative as a modified version of tennis played on a compact court with foam balls and shorter racquets. Not only does it solve the problem of space constraints but will soon become much more accessible in schools, events and housing societies.
In this exclusive interview with SPOGO, Mr. Prasad Kapre, CEO at touchtennis India speaks about the potential of the sport in the country, various initiatives planned by the organization, navigating the COVID-19 situation, overcoming challenges, future goals and more!
Q 1) As CEO of touchtennis India please share some insights on the popularity of the sport in the country, its growth and potential?
touchtennis is a very new sport and we have just launched the sport in India last year. Due to the pandemic we could not conduct many events but the activities we did in our base at Pune turned out to be successful as many people were interested and wanted to take up the sport. Once the educational institutions and offices are back, we are planning to organize school summer camps and hold league events with rankings for the adults in 2022. We are also planning to do demos in housing societies.
The game is ideal for Indian scenarios because we don't have many open areas and touchtennis does not take much space. We also lack sports facilities but the sport doesn't require specialized equipment so there is a lot of potential in the country for all age groups.
Q 2) What are the various initiatives that touchtennis India is undertaking to popularize the sport in the country?
The initiative which we have already planned is a school activation program once the schools in bigger cities start their offline class where we will give them demos. We will also start the after school program and summer school break activities as we are hoping that there won't be any more lockdowns. For the corporate employees, we will be focusing mainly on the women employees as now most of the organizations are trying to engage the women force towards health and sports. We feel that there is a lot of potential for women in the corporate sector and their participation will enhance the potential in the sport.
Q 3) What are some of your upcoming events planned in India? How are you navigating the COVID-19 situations to make them happen?
We are coordinating with schools now, as precautions we take necessary measures by sanitizing the rackets and courts but when we are in schools, we follow the school norms of social distancing, not having too many children on the court and many other things. We don’t have a specific safety protocol but tag along with the organization's health and safety protocols which we as a group tend to follow.
Q 4) What are some of the challenges that you have faced as CEO of touchtennis India? How did you overcome them?
The first and foremost challenge we faced is that not too many Indians have played tennis per se, so tennis is a very new sport for a lot of people as they are wary of whether they can pick it up as a recreational sport or not. A lot of people tend to follow tennis and try to pick up the sport by watching it but not too many people have actually played the sport. The second challenge we faced is that touchtennis is a recreational sport. As of now there isn’t a career path or it is played professionally as many parents tend to ask us ‘what's the future for my son in this sport’ so these are some of the challenges we face. In my defence I would say this is the perfect sport for the age group of 6-12 to pick up the nuances of tennis as the playing time is more and you tend to develop the cognitive skills of tennis and if you're good at touchtennis then you will indirectly be good at tennis.
Q 5) Do you believe that touchtennis in India can become as popular as mainstream tennis one day? If yes, what needs to be done to make that happen?
We're not really competing with mainstream tennis as such. More than the popularity, we want participation. The idea is to make it a people's game. We want it to be a mass participative game for which we have a nice inbuilt system that is followed globally as touchtennis is very popular in Western Europe and North America. They have a very well developed league system and ranking games. We also have our own leaderboard because everybody wants to be seen and get that recognition. Everybody wants to unleash the Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal within them. The plan is to organise more and more events where people participate and there is a healthy competition but in a recreational way. You're not really playing for money but for the recognition and the bragging rights against your friends or colleagues. That is where we see it catching up with the young and middle age audience. The two things we are going to do in the next couple of years is the proliferation of our leagues and our ranking tournaments.
Q 6) What are your long term goals as CEO of touchtennis India? How do you plan to accomplish them?
The long term goal is to make sure that touchtennis reaches every corner of India in the next 10 years. The plan is to find the right partners once we develop a holistic business model around because right now we are doing everything like going to schools for demos, running training centers ourselves but as an organisation we have limitations and can only do certain things. I wouldn't call them franchises but they need to believe in touchtennis and that they can really work on it. We will empower them, dwell them and help them to grow touchtennis in their own area depending on their capacity. That is what we are concentrating on, to grow the sport.
AITA Secretary General Anil Dhupar rues Bopanna and Mirza comments on social media, calls it inappropriate and misleading
With the Tokyo Olympics just around the corner, controversy surrounding veteran Indian tennis player Rohan Bopanna and AITA continues over the Tokyo 2020 Olympics qualification. Taking to Twitter, Bopanna accused the Indian body of misleading him, resulting in a public exchange between the two parties.
In an exclusive interaction with SPOGO, the Hon’ Secretary General of AITA Mr. Anil Dhupar clarified the controversy that has made waves on social media and condemned the tweets by Indian senior tennis players Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza.
Full statement below:
“These tweets by Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza are most inappropriate and misleading. They are without facts, in fact I’m shocked that they don’t know the basic knowledge about the guidelines regarding the ITF rules about getting entry into the Olympics. I don’t understand Rohan and Sania’s frustration and they are most unwarranted. To make things clear, it’s up to the players who get good ranking who get into the qualifying of the Olympics. The Federation does not have a wild card to make our own kids enter into the Olympic qualifying.”
“Till 16th of July, Divij (Sharan) and Rohan (Bopanna), who are our best doubles players, were on the waiting list. All of a sudden, we received the good news from ITF on the 16th of July that Sumit Nagal has qualified to play singles. Anybody in the tennis fraternity who understands the sport knows that when a doubles player participates in the Olympics, they are also entitled to play the mixed doubles, the entry is not separate. We were very happy that we will be able to get doubles entry now with the singles entry of Sumit Nagal as the IOC has already mentioned in their rules that singles players will have priority over doubles players. Everyone is aware of this, including Mr. Rohan Bopanna”
“Since 16th of July was a Friday, we sent a note to the ITF that since our singles player has been included, we would like to change our nomination from Rohan - Divij to Rohan Bopanna and Sumit Nagal, if the rules permit. They wrote back to us on the 16th itself that there is no provision to change the nomination unless a player is injured, illness or due to special circumstances. However, this proposal will be open for seven hours and even if the nomination is accepted, the new player will not qualify as there are two better singles players already in the pipeline, so they became number three.”
“If Mr. Rohan Bopanna does not have a better ranking and he is not getting qualification because of that, then what is he talking about? Our job is to promote tennis, send recommendations which we are doing day in and out and instead of appreciating the efforts of the Federation, there are words being used that are not appreciated at all. We at AITA condemn his (Rohan Bopanna) and Sania Mirza’s statements. Sania doesn’t know if there is no men’s double entry, how does one win the medal? We feel proud that she is the only Indian lady to feature in the Olympics for the fourth time, but she is supporting a cause that she’s well aware of, despite that she is still writing things for reasons I don’t know.”
“If a men’s doubles team is not entered into the Olympics qualifying, no mixed doubles can be played. Everyone is aware of this, including Sania (Mirza) so why is she saying that we lost an opportunity to win a medal? No you have not lost, because losing is when we are not able to send the team. It is the ITF rules and it’s a sad thing for Indians as tennis players who have been supported by TOPS, who have been funding Indian players are unable to qualify. It’s bad luck.”
“Making such comments will not help the tennis fraternity or the sport at all. The fact is that we tried our best, despite the lack of time. The good news is, Sumit Nagal is playing singles and we applied for accreditation, invitation and other formalities for him on Saturday which needs to be done because of COVID. We only had Saturday and Monday where his application needed to be approved and I’m thankful to the Indian Olympic Association, the Deputy Chief Dr Prem Verma who worked very hard on Saturday evening and Monday to get Nagal his accreditation and invitation and he is flying to Tokyo today (20th July).”
“Through good teamwork we have managed to secure his entry in 24 hours, so allegations and words are only showing their frustration, we are all feeling bad that India is not playing doubles. For senior players to speak out, tweeting, retweeting, deleting and recording is not showing maturity. Nobody in the world can record without their consent, it’s against the law. Stop all these things Mr. Rohan Bopanna, we all feel proud of your achievements, you still have the age to accomplish more things and we can do that together.”
Also read: The Golden Slam Awaits Novak Djokovic at the Tokyo Olympics
Touchtennis is making the sport accessible to the masses to live happier, healthier lives
Tennis has always been associated as a rich man’s sport. Memberships at exclusive tennis clubs were always restricted to the rich and influential, unlike football, it’s a sport that requires proper coaching which is an added expense. Adding to that is the cost of equipment such as racquets, balls, strings, shoes, shock absorbers and it all amounts to a sport that has rarely been accessible to those who could not afford it.
However, with the introduction of touchtennis, that perception has drastically changed. Not only has the sport never been more affordable, it can be played on any flat surface with no added expenses with the company of your friends and family. In an exclusive interview with SPOGO, we learn more about this unique initiative with the founder of touchtennis himself, Mr. Rashid Ahmad who spoke about coming up with the idea, the difference between touchtennis and traditional tennis, overcoming challenges, making people active and future goals!
Q 1) How did you come up with the idea of touchtennis, what sort of reception has it received and how quickly has the sport grown?
In all fairness, Tennis as a sport has been around for so many years and all I did was use the space I had available to play with my daughter and then with my friends. We started with a silly idea, some friends and I and before we knew it, it grew into something a lot bigger than what we thought it was ever going to be.
Q 2) What is the difference between touchtennis and the traditional format of tennis?
The main difference is that we use a compact court which is a quarter of the size of a tennis court. Other than that we use a foam ball, a 21-inch racket and a compact net so the court is much more condensed and allows us to play the compact version of the game. The scoring is very similar, 15-30-40. The main differences are that you only get one serve, and that if the ball clips the net and goes in, it is considered in play as there are no lets. The other fun rule is that you are allowed to throw your racket to make a shot. You can do that and can continue to play on.
Q 3) What are some of the challenges that you have faced as the founder of touchtennis? How is the sport being promoted around the world?
As far as the sport is concerned, it's never something we’ve actively tried to promote. We create content and we share it on the internet on various platforms, but we don’t actively market the sport to anybody. That has made it very simple for us. We just have fun playing and that is all we ever meant to do. We were never really out to globally dominate some sport. We just wanted to have fun, some friends and I. Now, we have ended up having barbeques all around the world. We somehow ended up in India and we have a license there and in other countries like South Korea, Italy, France, Spain, the UK, America, Saudi Arabia and all these countries.
Q 4) How important of a role does touchtennis play in making people live active, healthier lives because its more accessible than the traditional format of tennis?
As you saw during the lockdown, nobody was able to play tennis at all. It was impossible to go to a tennis club and play, the only alternative was to play in your garden. Touchtennis really exploded in the last couple of years because everyone was able to play the sport in their garden, either with our equipment or buying cheaper equipment from somewhere else. It does make tennis more affordable, friendly and welcoming than other adaptations out there that have very expensive equipment. Some of the paddles you can buy are 150 pounds whereas with touchtennis, you can buy the entire court including the nets, racquets and balls for 150 pounds.
Q 5) What is your goal and ambition for touchtennis in the future? How do you plan to achieve it?
Without giving too much away, the plan has always been rather loosely put together. We have never really had a concrete plan, Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has got a plan until they get punched in the face” and the same goes for touchtennis, we don’t ever want to get punched in the face, we just want to have fun! As the sport grows, my dream is to have kids from the streets win major tournaments and earn life changing amounts of money. That’s the dream and I’m looking at this as the route out of poverty for so many people and to change our perceptions of one another. My other dream is to have a touchtennis court across the India and Pakistan border, so that people can play on it and realize there are really no differences apart from what politicians tell us. If we can do that and have some fun along the way, what a great way to live!
Our dream of winning the tennis Grand Slams can come true if the right sponsorship and training is provided - Anil Dhupar, Secretary General of AITA
Over the years, India has produced some outstanding tennis players. From Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupati, Sania Mirza, Vijay Amritraj and Rohan Bopanna to name a few, the sport has surged in popularity with India’s talent making its mark on the global stage. While the next generation aspires to accomplish greater heights, we’re delving into the world of tennis in India to see what’s in store for the future.
In an exclusive interview with SPOGO, Mr. Anil Dhupar, Secretary General of the All India Tennis Association speaks about the impact of COVID-19 on tennis in India, grassroot development, overcoming challenges, mental health and the future of tennis in the country.
Q 1) The COVID pandemic has disrupted sports around the world, how much of an impact has it had on AITA’s plans?
Ans: The pandemic has really made a lot of impact. After the first wave, we started a theme called ‘Return of Tennis’ which started on November 16th. Even though all the states in India were unable to conduct all the tournaments because of the restrictions given by the local government, we really did a good job at organizing all the tournaments at the junior, nationals, and international level with a prize money of 15,000 USD. Things were going on pretty well until the 2nd wave but since April onwards everything has stopped. There is no tennis, all academies are closed and it’s making a big impact on the junior players who could not be sent to the World Group Qualifying, the wheelchair team which was due to play for the first time in Portugal and similarly there were innumerable sectors that were affected in India. It has definitely impacted India more than other countries, especially in Europe.
Q 2) What is AITA doing at the grassroot level to promote tennis, especially in tier 2 and 3 cities?
Ans: We are conducting almost 600 tournaments in a year for the juniors. The junior category is from 10 years old to 12, 14, 16 and 18 years of age. These are All India Ranked Tournaments and the 12 and 14 year old juniors are sent to participate in the Asia/Oceania group. A child who is representing India is holding the flag as early as at the age of 12. We have the world’s finest scheme for junior tennis players known as the Talent Series Tennis Tournament which is organized for all age groups. When they become well versed with the tournament structure they progress to the Championship Series, Super Series and National Series. That’s how aspiring tennis players are promoted and it helps them develop into a good player. For the first time, we have started a national coaching camp in Delhi this January for 24 participants each amongst boys and girls from different states for a duration of 21 days. Unfortunately things have come to an end right now due to the pandemic.
Q 3) What are the biggest challenges that Indian tennis players face? How can those challenges be overcome?
Ans: There are multiple challenges that are faced by Indian tennis players. We need to have many more national and international tournaments in India which require money and sponsorship, either by corporates, state government or central government so that when Indian tennis players participate, they can get good points. We need to upgrade the tournament structure and have a series of international tournaments even at the junior level from grade 1 to 5. It is absolutely necessary for high ranked tournaments to be played in India so that tennis players in the country get ATP points to play across the world. Tennis is an expensive game and it needs sponsorship for players to travel and compete around the world. Sponsors need to support tennis as a sport and the government must support tournaments and despite the fact that they have started doing it, it's not to the extent that is required. There needs to be more tournaments for all categories. Having tournaments in India will help players save money that would be spent on travelling and would help get entry at the larger tournaments around the world.
Q 4) How is AITA grooming upcoming stars so that they can be competitive at the highest level?
Ans: A lot of tennis academies have come up around the country and there are many coaches that are certified by AITA. The benefits of that are that tennis players at the junior level are properly trained and even senior players are getting the best coaching facilities. We are still insisting to have many more in the years to come. There also has to be a willingness to come up in the grid and progress from the top 300, 200 to 100 in the world. Just like any other sport, passion is very important, not just for tennis players at the junior level but also parents. Parents need to be patient and supportive. We are conducting coaching camps, tournaments and are trying to get our junior players to participate in the Asia/Oceania group to give them more opportunities to participate and know where they stand as players. Even during the COVID times, we get 400 to 500 entries for the Nationals so the participation has grown and the desire to excel is now a part of the upcoming tennis players. That’s very important.
Q 5) Despite the fact that tennis is a physically demanding sport, how important of a role does mental health play?
Ans: It does play a very important role in every sport, especially in tennis. According to me, physical and mental strength is what determines a win or a loss. When two players contest a game they are at par in terms of physical strength but when they know which point to play in which fashion it makes all the difference. We have seen a lot of players losing a game from a winning position owing to the level of their mental toughness. They lose their mental toughness at some of the matches and lose the game. Mental toughness is very important and therefore many courses are brought into place in many academies including ours to make a child mentally tough. A child needs a physical trainer and a coach but along with it guidance on mental health and fitness is also very important.Therefore we have brought in some of the courses in this regard. Indeed mental fitness is equally as important as physical fitness.
Q 6) What needs to be done to get Indians to not just compete at the highest level such as Grand Slams or Olympics but also win?
Ans: It's a dream for all of us. In Europe there are about thirty to forty countries wherein the tennis circuit is still active and in full swing despite the pandemic. Naturally, the players hailing from these countries benefit from playing many more tournaments, spending a very little amount and gaining a large number of points. It Is very difficult for Indians as they have to travel extensively which a lot of people are not able to. We have a lot of talent to exploit but we need support, specially from corporate for grooming players. The dream of entering and winning Grand slams would definitely come true when we invest a lot of energy, money and corporate support as only then an Indian player will be able to do well at such levels.
Q 7) What do you envision as the future of tennis in India?
Ans: I think the future of tennis in India is fantastic. It's a game that has recently picked up as there were not many takers of the game earlier but today all towns and states across India are doing very well. We have a policy of registering players for junior, senior, men, women as well as the wheelchair categories. We have a system of registration and when you see it you will find that more and more players are joining the sport. My vision would be to create a system where a tennis player is not deprived of playing any tournament and his talent is exploited along with taking great care of it. We would like to go to the World Group as we did in the Fed Cup, the Billie Jean King Cup for the first time and we went into the World group this time. This can go on even in the junior levels, the junior Davis Cup and the Davis Cup. However, this will be only possible when all our players do well physically and mentally and are put into the right areas of playing the game. The biggest challenge for the All India Tennis Association today is where and when to start tennis and what kind of tennis as right now we don't have any clue from any corner of the state or anywhere else where tennis or any other game can be started. Hence once the pandemic is over, we are all geared up and will do our best to put our children on the roll and I'm sure this thing will help them in their future endeavors.