Asian Games 2018: Past and future stars lead India’s tennis medal charge
The last four editions of the Asian Games have seen India pick up a grand total of 18 medals in the sport of tennis, meaning fans will be reasonably confident of a good showing in Jakarta.
India are fifth on the overall list of gold medal winners in the racquet sport, having won 8 gold’s over the years and 29 medals in total.
The All India Tennis Association (AITA) announced a 12-person team for the Asian Games 2018 and the contingent include a healthy mix of players who have both achieved success in the past as well as young, upcoming stars hungry for glory.
However, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of India’s medals in the Asian Games have come in doubles events. Singles success, while not entirely elusive, has remained limited.
Youth lead the charge
Perhaps the most refreshing takeaway from India’s squad is that there’s no shortage of promising young players; eight of the twelve players in the team are below the age of 25.
The fact that six of those eight youngsters are women is another good sign given that the last successful female tennis player was Sania Mirza.
Ankita Raina and Karman Kaur Thandi will be the biggest medal hopes in the women’s events. Raina is currently India’s highest-ranked woman, having won titles in both singles and doubles ITF events over the years.
Karman only recently made a singles breakthrough, winning a $25,000 ITF Hong Kong tournament in June this year. This was her maiden final win in five ITF tournament finals.
Winning a singles medal would be a long shot for 20-year old Karman, but a good showing and a perhaps bringing home a medal of any colour would do wonders for the youngster in the long run.
There’s also 24-year old Prarthana Thombare, who partnered with Sania Mirza to win a bronze medal in the women’s doubles event at the 2014 Asian Games.
The young duo of Rutuja Bhosale and Pranjala Yadlapalli, who won their second doubles title on Friday at the $25,000 ITF tournament at Nonthaburi in Thailand, could possibly spring an upset or two at Jakarta.
In the men’s side, Ramkumar Ramanathan will lead the charge in the singles events. He recently made the final of the Hall of Fame Open at Newport but lost to American Steve Johnson.
Sumit Nagal, who will partner Leander Paes in the men’s doubles, will be keen to do well since his inclusion over the likes of Purav Raja and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan was questioned by some of his peers.
Old is gold?
Alan Hansen, a former football commentator on BBC’s football show Match of the Day, infamously quipped, “You can’t win anything with kids” after an inexperienced Manchester United side beaten 3-1 by Aston Villa in the opening Premier League game of the 1995/96 season.
While United did indeed go on to win the title that season – thus securing Hansen’s place in football folklore – his assessment isn’t far off the mark in modern sport.
Therefore, while it’s a good sign for tennis in India that a number of youngsters feature in the Asian Games team this time, the experienced heads in the team will have to provide them with guidance and protection.
Leading the way for the veterans is Leander Paes, a man who needs no introduction due to his immense contribution to the sport.
Somehow still active on the professional circuit at the ripe age of 45, the man who was one half of India’s best-ever doubles pairing alongside Mahesh Bhupati would love to add another Asian Games medal to his tally.
There’s also Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan, who will likewise compete in the men’s doubles. Bopanna has tasted Grand Slam success in 2017, winning the French Open mixed doubles title.
Both Bopanna and Sharan made the last eight of the Wimbledon men’s doubles event with their partners and would be itching to put in a good showing in the Asian Games.
And while all eyes will be on Ramkumar Ramanathan in the men’s singles event, Prajnesh Gunneswaran too will be keen to make a mark.
In his maiden ATP World Tour main draw game in June this year, the 28-year old beat teen sensation Denis Shapalov and he will want to show that the result wasn’t a one-off.
The relative inexperience of the Indian tennis team – especially on the women’s side – makes it hard to predict just how many medals the team could bring home.
However, the fact that there are so many youngsters present in the side is a good sign for the future of the sport, regardless of how they perform when up against the best players Asia has to offer.
Any medals won by them would be a bonus.