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NRI play from heart - for India or US

Chennai Open 2006, will see many Indian youngsters brought up in US who will play from their heart regardless of the country they represent .

tennis Updated: Jan 03, 2006 14:19 IST

The Chennai Open 2006 tennis tournament, beginning on Monday, will see many youngsters of Indian origin brought up in the US who will play from their heart regardless of the country they represent - India or the US.

Some, like tennis legend Vijay Amritraj's son Prakash Amritraj from the US, will wear Indian colours, while others like Rajeev Ram will stick to the US colours.

For many of them, playing in the country of their origin means something more defining than just playing tennis. Many participants have their parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts got together at the Nungambakkam stadium of the Tamil Nadu Sports Authority to watch them play for the first time in India.

Both Rajeev Ram and Vivek Subrmanian are playing for the US and have got into the second qualifying round. Amritraj, of course, has been playing for India for several seasons now.

Vijay Amritraj has been closely associated with the Chennai Open since its beginning 11 years ago, and also with the All India Tennis Association and partners, the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu and the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association.

"Though I grew up in Los Angeles, Chennai is my home now," Prakash said. "I like playing for my country," he added.

Playing in Chennai also means having brother Vikram, the non-playing member of the Amritraj team around, carrying his kit, posing for pictures and giving the bear hugs on bad days.

"What does having him around mean? Oh, he is my imagination, he is my soul mate," said Prakash.

As for the dad, "Vijay amritraj is my inspiration, my role model. Even if he hadn't been my dad, he would have been my role model," he said.

Prakash, ranked 289 in the ATP, said the Chennai Open 2006 would be his first Asian tournament this year.

"I have grown up with dreams of winning the Davis Cup. That's in the blood. But my dreams were also to do well in the Wimbledon," he said.

Prakash played junior tennis with Sania Mirza, the reigning tennis sensation in India, and thought: "Sania is a good thing happening to Indian tennis."

He does not think it is a good idea that more NRIs should don the Indian colours "just because they get a better opportunity in the Indian circuits."

"One should play for India only if they feel for India from the heart," the spunky youngster said.

Prakash has got a wild card entry into Chennai Open at the beginning of the year. He takes on Ricardo Mello of Brazil and has a host of tough matches ahead.

After Chennai, Amritraj junior goes to the Australian Open, then to Europe and Korea for more tennis this year.

"My biggest goal this year will be not to get injured," Prakash said.

Rajeev Ram, based in Indianapolis, has not come to India for 15-odd years.

"I arrived here two days ago and I'm very excited about playing in India. Its been great, so far," said Ram. "It is my first time in Chennai. I have a lot of family here and playing in front of them is a great feeling," he said.

What would it be like to play for India? "I've thought of it many times", Ram said. "I am proud of my heritage, but I am an American at heart. I have received a lot of support from the US Tennis Association and have represented the US."

"I'd love to play Wimbledon or Davis Cup, but I would be representing America even though I am attached to my Indian heritage."

"I will represent India in every way except play for the country," Ram added.

First Published: Jan 01, 2006 20:12 IST