The lack of depth in Indian tennis is due to the lack of a structured programme, Davis Cup captain Rohit Rajpal said on Monday but, along with coach Zeeshan Ali, expressed optimism that the establishment of National Tennis Centre will soon start producing players to take the game forward. The NTC has started functioning at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA) but arranging funds for the ambitious project, which offers scholarships to top junior players and aims to provide stat-of-the-art training facilities to the best men and women Indian players, is still keeping the national federation, AITA, worried.
India does not have a single top-100 players in the singles format and the best-ranked player is 27-year-old Ramkumar Ramanathan, who is placed 184 on the ATP chart. Prajnesh Gunneswaran, at 32, is not getting any younger and Rohan Bopanna has already touched 41. Yuki Bhambri, 29, has lost precious time to injuries and the 24-year-old Sumit Nagal too has his own limitations. Currently, the next Davis Cup players are nowhere to be seen. India does not have a single junior player in top-5 even among Asians.
Nishant Dabas at 97, is the only player in top-100 juniors in the world. Players from Namibia, Morocco, Kazkahstan and Brazil are ranked much higher than the Indians. "We must do something. It's a worrisome situation. We used to dominate in Asia at least but it's not the case any more. This is because of lack of a structured programme," rued Rajpal, who was present during the launch of the second season of Pro Tennis League. "But now NTC is there. Consistent pipeline is a necessity, something that badminton has done, is needed for tennis." "Credit to AITA for bringing in so many tournaments that helps the players in getting their rankings up. In our times, there was only one Satellite tournament in entire year.
"AITA developed infrastructure too, hence we have five players ranked between 100 and 250. A Project like NTC was missing and now it's there. Hopefully the gap will be filled. " Zeeshan, who is heading the coaching programme of the NTC, said "nothing happens overnight." Zeeshan left his base in Bangalore and moved to Noida along with his family to head the NTC. "The objective of the NTC is not just giving training to the juniors but create a base for all top players of the country, where they can come and use the facilities," said Zeshan. "The physios, the fitness trainers, gym, pool, restaurant and more importantly a sports science centre where the players and can have their injury issues addressed in a scientific manner."
The NTC has, as of now, taken Karan Singh, Ajay Malik, Nishant Dabas, Riya Sachdeva (U14) under its wings, taking care of all the expenses of their training and stay at DLTA. Suraj Prabodh, Nitin Sinha have also made NTC their base as about 35 players, including from Singapore and Middle East, now train at the centre. NTC will also tie up with Open schools for online class of its trainees so that their education does not suffer. "We have lost a lot of players to the US College system. I am sure, given a choice the players will like to turn Pro than play college tennis. And 70-80 per cent of Indian players can't afford to train in Spain or Germany. "We are trying to bridge the gap. For the first time we have a programme, and hopefully, it will make a difference," said Rajpal