As a nation with pathetic sporting success, we love hyperbole. Each win is celebrated out of proportion.
Now, don't get me wrong.
At 42, Leander Paes keeps on piling his doubles trophies. He is now the oldest man ever to win a Grand Slam. His longevity and doggedness deserve applause. Sania Mirza notched another mark for the dismal legacy we have in women's tennis. That's also great. What however does not give me great joy is the fuss over Sumit Nagal winning the junior boys doubles. Nor does the basic fact that we seem to be getting hysterical over doubles wins even 18 years after Mahesh Bhupathi got the first ever mixed doubles title for an Indian in 1997.
Let's first get a couple of things clear about doubles. At the top level of the sport, few singles proponents play the twosome variety with any regularity. The pace of the game and its physical demands are now such that it is far too taxing for a player to straddle both formats. Many tournament organisers, in fact, want to eject doubles from their events as these matches do not fill the stands. That's largely because it's a bunch of unknown players, unless you are a doubles aficionado, figuring in the fixtures. Doubles draws have gone smaller over the years as has viewership and stake in overall prize money.
Mixed doubles is a format that does not feature on the circuit and is mainly a sidelight to Grand Slams. As such, there is no world ranking. Paes earned 50,000 pounds (approx. Rs 50 lakh) for that performance on Sunday night at Wimbledon. To put things in perspective, the same tournament pays its second round singles loser 47,000 pounds (Rs 46.4 lakh). The singles winner? That's a massive 1,880,000 pounds (Rs 18.5 cr). The men's and women's doubles do better with each player making 170,000 pounds (Rs 1.6 cr).
Sumit Nagal, touted as the next great Indian hope by Mahesh Bhupathi, lost in the first round of the boys singles. He won the doubles. The logic that at least he won something is irrefutable. Just as the logic that someone losing in the first round of the boys draw at the age of 17 may not be the next great hope? Nagal has also been doing reasonably well on the junior tour to be ranked 31 in the world and grass may not be his best surface. However, celebrating junior doubles wins reflects more on a nation bereft of choice rather than one discerning in its applause.
Further, no revolutions happen by grand winning of titles. If a revolution had to happen in Indian tennis perhaps, Paes' Atlanta Olympics bronze would have spurred it. Possibly Mirza's singles title or the innumerable doubles wins of Paes and Bhupathi would have done the needful by now. Nothing of the sort has happened. Nothing will even now. As much as I admire Mirza for saying that she hopes her success inspires others, let's be very clear; sustained sporting success comes through the creation of a process that spurs the systematic growth of champions consistently. This does not happen in a flash.
For India to change we are talking of esoteric things like sports culture and a training system grounded in sports science. And as long as such basics stay esoteric, India is likely to savour only doubles success as that's a format that the best in the world largely ignore. After all, we are zero in the singles game that really matters. Doubles, after all, are what unfit uncles play in our clubs. Even at that level, singles stays king.