Tennis Expert Views
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.