When Sunil Kumar Sipaeya became the national champion in 1999 at the age of 16, the youngster credited his success to the rural tennis programme of the Chandigarh Lawn Tennis Association.
Later renamed the Chandigarh academy for rural tennis (CHART), the programme has been in operation since 1988.
Picked up from Kapurthala at the age of nine, Sipaeya still associates himself with the programme.
"Had it not been for them, I wouldn't be where I am today," the former Davis Cupper said. What's unique about the programme is that it goes into the rural areas of Punjab and Haryana and selects children. After trials, the chosen are housed in the CLTA hostels free of cost.
Currently, 35 children are being nurtured under the CHART scheme. Many of the trainees have gone on to become junior champions and have represented the country in the junior Davis Cup. Former CHART-trainee Vijayant Malik is currently ranked 479 in the world.
Making it big
Not everyone can become the poster boy or national champion. What about those who were nurtured by the programme over the years but never made it big? “Many of our former players have made a name for themselves by becoming coaches,” says Rajan Kashyap, the patron-in-chief of CLTA.
The two examples that come to mind are Robin Kumar and Birbal Wadhera. While Kumar has an academy of his own, Wadhera was recently hired by the Pakistan Tennis Federation as coach. A few of the former players have also tried their hand at umpiring.
“We take care of their education and teach them the game. It's a programme whereby one can learn to sustain oneself,” Kashyap adds.