For most, playing professionally past late 30s is difficult. One often turns to coaching or commentating to stay involved with the sport. There are exceptions of course. Take Leander Paes for example. At 43, he played his seventh Olympic Games and is going strong on the ATP Tour.
Closer home, there seems to be no stopping Nitin Kirtane. At 42, he’s consistently winning national ranking tournaments in singles and doubles and giving youngsters a run for their money. “It’s motivation for sure,” laughs Kirtane. “It keeps the youngsters on their toes. They don’t like losing to seniors.”
With a laudatory resume, the Railways employee from Pune has been notching up wins with ease. This year itself, the left-hander has won two double crowns, the most recent in Bengaluru last month. “I won’t get this chance again so why not give it a shot right?” he asks.
“Staying fit is the key. When one turns to coaching, the attention turns towards the ward, one can lose physical fitness,” feels the thrice national champion. “Coaching can wait. I’m fighting fit and train just like the youngsters do.”
That he definitely does. Working with trainer Mihir Teranikar for the past 25 years, Kirtane’s schedule is at par with youngsters. The day usually begins at 5.30 am and ends in the evening which includes fitness training, gym and on-court sessions.
In 2005, the former Davis Cupper was involved a horrific car crash. His right hand was badly damaged and needed a metal plate to be inserted. “It still hurts when lifting heavy weights but thankfully the left was fine,” he says. “It would have taken me much longer to recover or even be able to play again.”
Sponsorship is never easy in a country like India. Nothing much has changed since Kirtane began playing in the early 1990s. “The Railways help me out with my travel and I put in the prize money earned for upcoming tournaments,” he says. Up next is a $10000 Futures in Chennai and Asian Tennis Tour events.
From reaching the junior Wimbledon boys’ doubles final with Mahesh Bhupathi in 1992 to winning the team bronze at the Bangkok Asian Games, representing India in Davis Cup to becoming a national champion for the first time, Kirtane has many fond memories. The only regret is he failed to go “to the next level with (cousin) Sandeep (Kirtane)”. “We were playing well together and had notched up many wins, yet, we just couldn’t break that barrier,” he rues. His highest doubles ranking remained at 280.
Kirtane has no definite goals or targets. It’s his love and determination for the game that keeps him going on the gruelling circuit. With victories piling up, why shouldn’t he.