A recent report shows that India has the most number of tennis fans in the world after the USA. Although tennis is not a household name in India, it has been producing world class players for the past few decades. The issue starts with the fact that many of these world class players are close to the retiring age, which leaves the future of Indian Tennis in turmoil.
When the Brits invaded India, they bought their Tennis skills as well. As far as the records go, BK Nehru was the first player from India to be on the world stage representing the country during early to mid-colonial rule. However, one person who has changed the face of Indian Tennis was Ramanathan Krishnan who secured world rank 6 during the early 1960s. Vijay Amritraj and his brother Anand Amritraj also played their part in bringing laurels for the country during the 1970s.
On the women’s side, unfortunately, there weren’t many players back in those times who made a mark on the world stage until Sania Mirza.
When the first generation stars were retiring, no one knew what the future would be in the 1990s. Mahesh Bhupathi was one of the first to move to the world stage after the Tennis geniuses retired. Leander Paes followed him, and for the next decade, they represented India on the grand slams. Sania Mirza rose to the limelight after her Girls Doubles win in the Wimbledon during the year 2003. It is the same tournament in which Leander Paes won the Mixed Doubles Title.
India produced legendary doubles players but did not achieve much in Singles. Leander Paes and Sania Mirza also excelled in Singles before they turned to Doubles. Paes achieved his highest rank of 73 for Singles and 1 for Doubles where Sania Mirza reached 27 in Singles and 1 in Doubles. Mahesh Bhupathi, on the other hand, failed to achieve a high rank in Singles but went to the number one spot in Doubles.
Somdev Devvarman does not need a special introduction for his commitment to the Indian Tennis. Although he did not win any Grand Slam, He was runners-up few times which is huge for a country with no decent Singles player. He did not achieve much in doubles where his highest rank was 139 and his highest singles rank being 62.
As mentioned earlier all these players are close to retiring. Bhupathi is 42, and Paes, 43, which is much higher than the average age of retirement in Tennis.
It seems that the next generation stars are not very capable of handling the ever-demanding challenges of the sport. The highest ranked singles player from India is Saketh Myneni, his world rank being 192 followed by Ramkumar Ramanathan at 227. They represent India in the Davis Cup. The best performance for India at the Davis Cup was being Runners-up three times. Vishnu Vardhan is another player, but there is not much to report about his game. Yuki Bambhri looked promising during the early stages of his career but later fell to 474 in the world rankings. His last best performance was winning the Shanghai Major challenge in 2014. Although there are a couple more players from India; none of them looks promising to lead India on the world stage.
Speaking of Women’s Tennis, the future is much bleaker than the Men’s side where Sania Mirza is the only player to be highly successful. She has achieved the number 1 rank in doubles category and is currently ranked at 2. Rutuja Bhosale, Ankita Raina, Rishika Sunkara, Prerna Bhambri are some of the players but unfortunately they are a long way from competing with the best in the world.
In the junior circuit, it looks a bit promising with Karman Kaur Thandi who won the 2015 WTF future stars. Although she did not win any tournament in the year 2016, she did showcase some exceptional talent. Pranjala Yadlapalli is making the headlines for the past many years in the junior’s circuit. Labelled as a ‘Successor to Sania Mirza’, she made some close finishes in winning some tournaments. Although she lost the singles during the round of 16, she made a comeback with the doubles at quarterfinal loss partnering with Karman Kaur.
On the young men’s side, India’s top ranked U-18 player Vasisht Cheruku also is a star to look out for. Despite not winning any major tournaments he has provided a tough fight to his opponents. He’s not only proficient in doubles but also in the singles game, where he reached the finals of ITF junior’s event. Finally, the 2nd seeded U-18 player Adil Kalyanpur is also on the right path towards success. Though he has not won any titles yet, he recently managed to pull off a stunner by reaching the semis. The junior’s circuit in India is certainly looking extraordinary.
Indian Tennis has also not seen any successful players at the Rio Olympics. Rohan Bopanna and Paes playing Men’s doubles, Sania Mirza and Prarthana Thombare playing the women’s doubles failed terribly where both groups crashed out in the first round. The only thing to boast about is the Mixed Doubles category where Sania and Bopanna managed to secure the 4th position.
Mahesh Bhupathi is the man behind the prestigious tennis tournament International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), which was first organised in 2014. Bhupathi first issued a statement saying that this league is similar to the Indian Premier League, but unlike IPL the IPTL doesn’t contain any of the up-and-coming players or uncapped players to showcase the country’s hidden talent. All the players in 4 franchisees are either retired legends or current top seeded players. So the IPTL is a project more of a commercial one rather than one to find potential talent.
It is high time that the All India Tennis Association (AITA) takes note of this situation and reacts now to prevent more damage to the future of Indian Tennis. The office bearers are newly elected with the president being Ms Naveen Mahajan. We sincerely hope that she brings the lost glory back to the country’s courts on the Men’s side and Women’s side equally. The government should also focus on Tier-II and rural areas and conduct to bring the unknown talents to the national level. We leave with the hope that post retirement, Bhupathi and Paes train more youngsters to follow in their footsteps.