Tennis is a truly global sport. Apart from being an amazing sport to play, it is a popular spectator game in 200 countries. This is the reason why the prize money offered to professional players at the highest level is much more than in those sports that are not as spectator-friendly. It is also a fact that before a player develops into a world-class athlete, a lot of financing and other kinds of support systems are needed. Without substantial aid from the state or the official sports associations, it is impossible for young athletes to achieve success or become financially self-reliant. While countries such as China are investing millions of dollars into the game to unearth and nurture grand slam champions such as Li Na, in India, we have usually relied on individual brilliance and efforts to sporadically hoist the tricolour at prestigious world events on the shoulders of a Vijay Amritraj, Ramesh Krishnan, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi or a Sania Mirza.
The year gone by has been average, at best, as far as Indian tennis is concerned. With my break from tennis first due to injury and then the birth of my son, and Mahesh Bhupathi’s retirement, Indian tennis suddenly seems to have lost the spark that brought in some brilliant results in the recent past.
While the women led by Karman Kaur Thandi and Ankita Raina have occasionally produced some promising results, they have not yet made the big move; they are still hovering around the 200 mark in world rankings. Prajnesh Gunneswaran has been the find of the year among men. He ranks tantalisingly close to the top-100 mark, which will assure him a place in the main draw of the Australian Open in January. Ramkumar Ramanathan has had a few outstanding results as in the previous years but consistency has eluded him while Yuki Bhambri continues his struggles with injuries. The presence of three players in the top 150 of men’s tennis is encouraging for die-hard lovers of the game in India although this is definitely not enough to bring in spectators into the stands, which is ultimately what provides the lifeline to any sport.
Rohan Bopanna leads the rankings among Indians in men’s doubles though it was his Asian Games partner, Divij Sharan, who made a significant move during the year to rub shoulders with the big boys in grand slams. I am proud that Prarthna Thombare is now the number 1 player of the country in women’s doubles though she still has a long way to go before she flowers on the world stage. Tennis is not just an expensive sport but also one that is difficult to make a mark in at the international level. The stakes are high in terms of monetary remuneration and consequently fame and competition is unbelievably stiff.
Just a chosen few Indian male players have made a significant mark in international tennis. The fact that in more than a century, I am the only Indian woman ever to have broken into the top-100 of the world in singles or doubles is testimony to how difficult a task our players are faced with.
However, the respect and honour that is bestowed on a country that is represented at Wimbledon and other Grand Slams has to be seen to be believed and experienced to be understood. It makes all the combined efforts of the player, team and the country worthwhile.