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Sports ministry must stop treating Indian tennis with apathy

tennis Updated: Jul 16, 2015 12:44 IST
Sukhwant Basra
Sukhwant Basra
Hindustan Times

Leander Paes, Sania Mirza, and Sumit Nagal all triumphed at Wimbledon 2015, with India's haul of trophies totalling three (HT Photo)

This Wimbledon, Indian tennis players proved that when it comes to doubles, we are right up there with the best. While Leander Paes and Sania Mirza got the trophies and the subsequent accolades, Rohan Bopanna’s performance was also noteworthy. The man with the biggest serve in Indian tennis is our highest placed with a doubles ranking of 10. He and his Romanian partner lost in the semifinals in a close five-setter. What’s more, they bested the greatest doubles combo ever seen in tennis – the Bryan brothers – to earn that semis berth.

Between the three of these established doubles specialists India has a potential shot at two medals at the Rio Olympics – mixed and men’s doubles. This claim is stronger than many of the athletes already approved for financial support from the government. Actually, we didn’t even need Wimbledon results to vouch for our doubles prowess. So, it’s curious that the sports ministry chooses to ignore our tennis players when it comes to tapping the Rs. 110 crore corpus that has been set aside for the Rio Games under the National Sports Development Fund.

Doubtful evaluation

With a little digging HT unearthed a silly evaluation report on tennis made by an analyst from the ministry who has concluded that only Paes and Mirza deserve support. The merit of this analysis notwithstanding, even these two players are yet to get any money from the government. The approved list has enough contentious people whose merit can be debated. Paes and Mirza’s impressive credentials don’t even need to be outlined to get sanction for this puny bit that the government does for tennis players.

Then, while sports like sailing (Aishwarya and Varsha Gautam) and ice skating (Nischay Luthra) figure in the ministry’s plans for future Games, tennis, again, does not seem to be a priority. The four top-100 junior players — Sumit Nagal (31) in boys and in girls Pranjala Yadlapalli (17), Karman Thandi (86) and Mihika Yadav (89) — need to be groomed if we want singles results in the future. After all, if doubles is to stop being the only place where Indian tennis players excel, we need to work on a structure that foments the desire for excellence in singles. That requires a load of money.

Right step

Further, it was heartening to see the government sanction an additional amount of Rs. 25 lakh for Saina Nehwal for her second-place finish at the All England Open. It has also agreed to an amount of Rs. 9 lakh for her physio till the Rio Games. It’s good that Nehwal is being taken care of for she is a genuine medal contender. What I can’t understand is why not the tennis players? Mirza is world number one in women’s doubles rankings. She has already got four Grand Slam crowns. No special financial awards have been announced for her. Paes just got his 16th Slam. Why doesn’t he figure anywhere? There has to be parity of some sort in these cash announcements by the ministry.

Then, what about all the Asian Games medals garnered by our tennis players? The likes of Somdev Devvarman, Yuki Bhambri, Ramkumar Ramanathan and Saketh Myneni need support so that they can continue to deliver on that level while they look to ramp up their prowess.

There is something fishy happening here. I suspect that the personal vendetta of a few people against national tennis federation president Anil Khanna has clouded the overall judgement when it comes to tennis. Whatever the ministry’s issues with administrators, it needs to figure the bigger picture here.