The backdrop couldn’t have been more ironic. Under the same roof from where Mahesh Bhupathi announced how he and his colleagues were trying to build on the success of the Indian Professional Tennis League’s first season, Nirupama Sanjeev (formerly Vaidyanathan) gave her damning verdict of how the scene hasn’t changed at all for Indian women’s tennis in the last two decades.
Nirupama, former India No 1 and the first women’s singles player from the country to win a round in a Grand Slam, said she sees Indian women face the same struggle she had to undergo during her playing days in the 1990s. “There is a world of difference in some ways and there is nothing different in many ways. For example, we still don’t have a system in place,” she said while trying to explain the hardships players, especially women, have to endure while on tour.
“Twenty years ago I was so disjointed I would be travelling alone to all the tournaments. I never had any support, zero coach. But I was still good enough do a little something for me. But if I had to take a coach along or someone else along I couldn’t afford it. And I was the number one person from my country. It is not any different now. There are people like that doing the same thing, travelling by themselves without any support. So, what has changed in 20 years? Nothing. Yes, there’s a little bit more sponsorship. It is better than before but it is still not where it should be,” the US-based Nirupama said.
She is not optimistic of the scene in India changing anytime soon. “When I say we have no system what I mean is we don’t have five or six kids coming up together. Look at USA, Australia or Spain, they always have players who come up together. And to get five-six girls is more difficult. We have to give them a secure place to train together. Women have many issues to handle and men don’t understand what it takes. Only people who have gone through that will know.”
Nirupama published her autobiography, Moonballer, two years ago and plans to bring out her second book, this one for tennis parents. She felt things can’t change overnight and that the onus is on the All India Tennis Association to kickstart the new generation, urging the national body to give young talent the platform to train and compete against each other rather than train alone.
“You need to have top 10 or 15 kids practice together. That is the only way they can get better. You can’t have them disjointed at different places. At every tournament we go, every national team travels together. China, Indonesia and Thailand, which is quarter the size of India, do it. If they can do it, why can’t we? You need to do that if you want to get them sponsors.”