Chance For India To Strike Gold
Tennis is making its debut in the Commonwealth games, but unlike another debutant discipline Archery, it was not the first choice of the hosts who wanted Billiards and Snooker to be part of the sporting extraveganza slated to be held here from October 3 to 14. Commonwealth Games Federation(CGF) while agreeing to include Archery and rienduct wrestling voted in favour of Tennis, Indians were left with no choice but to accept it as one of the 17th disciplines.
Indians were not against Tennis per se but wanted that it should not be at the expense of Billiards and Snooker however CGF was not willing to accept more new disciplines for the 19th edition of the Games. There are five Golds at stake in this competition- Singles
(Men and Women), Doubles (Men and Women) and Mixed Doubles.
Each participating team is allowed to enter maximum of 3 Singles players and a maximum of 2 teams for Doubles and Mixed Doubles. The matches will be played at the upgrade RK Khanna Tennis Complex from October 4 to 10.The complex which has hosted Asiad 82 and Davis Cup matches in the past, has been upgraded at a cost of Rs 65 crores and provides state of the art facilities.
With a built up area of 11,500 sqm, it has fourteen tennis courts (one Centre Court, one Show Court and 12 Courts). Though the CGF has 71 members but it will not be wrong to say that not more than ten member countries have a good tennis record. The absence of any top ATP ranked player and a strong competitive field will certainly rob the competition of glamour and contest. Intrestingly the Commonwealth Games are one of the few competitions in tennis when British players represent their
individual countries, rather than playing under the banner of Great Britain. So in Delhi, Great Britain will be competing as 7 different teams – England, Scotland, Wales, N Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey.
In any case there are not more than five-men players from the Commonwealth Countries who figure among the top 100 in the World. The highest ranked is Andy Murray of Scotland, though in Grand Slams he represents Great Britain, he is number four, followed by Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus (ranked 30), Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt (33), Denis Istomin (71) and German based Jamacian Dustin Brown (99); India’s Somdev Devvarman is placed 109.
In the Women’s section, top ranked players are Australia’s Samantha Stosur who beat Venus Williams in French open, she is ranked seventh. Britain’s Elena Baltacha is 63rd, India’ Sania Mirza is at 91st place while two other Australians—Anastasia Rodionova and Alicia Molik are at 92 and 94th place. In the men’s doubles, Canada’s Daniel Nestor is 3rd in the ATP ranking. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi are ranked 6th and 7th respectively. Bhupathi’s partner (Mark Knowles of Bahmas) is at 8th place. They are followed by Aisam ul Haq Qureshi of Pakistan 46, Rohan Boppana (54), Britain’s Ross Hutchins(60), Jonathan Marray (74) and Britain’s Jamie Murray (96th).
It is not very clear as how many among those five players who figure in top 100 will come for the Games. Hewitt has already made his intentions clear of not comming to the games. To add salt to injury, former Wimbledon champion claimed that didn’t know that Tennis is going to be played at Delhi 2010. He was quoted by Brisbane Times as saying: ”It is a little strange…to tell you the truth, I didn’t even know tennis was in the Commonwealth Games until a month or so ago.” “Tennis, with the tour we have, trying to throw more things into it—you can’t cram too many more tournaments or events in our schedule. Especially for top players,” he said. ”Considering the Commonwealth Games isn’t even every country, it’s very tough to put the Games in your schedule and then try to still look after your ranking. We’ve got the Shanghai Masters just about coinciding with it as well, which is one of our biggest tournaments of the year. It is a tough situation for our sport, to have us thrown in there. I don’t know that it’s ever been in the Commonwealth Games. I’m not sure. But it definitely hasn’t been in a long time.”
”The scheduling is a bit of dilemma for me anyway, but player safety is always at the back of our minds. Tennis Australia and the rest of the team took it into consideration with the Davis Cup in India last year. I don’t think the federation or association would want to put the players in any awkward position. But in terms of the Commonwealth Games, I haven’t been into it enough to know about that,” he added.
In a sense Hewitt summed up the dilemma of other players like Andy Murray and Baghdatis, who will be
more keen to play in Multi-Million Dollar Shanghai Masters rather than to travel to Delhi on those dates. The organisers however are not concerned.”We expect good response from the member countries” said an official of All India Tennis Association (AITA). And they seem to have got a response. Malaysia, which has nothing to show in tennis on the International arena for a long time, has accepted invite to send a team. Lawn Tennis Association of Malaysia (LTAM) secretary Jaafar Abu while accepting the invitation candidly admitted: “It is rather surprising as our tennis players are not among the best in the world. However, it will be good exposure for them if we decide to send a team.” And one thought Commonwealth Games are not for exposure for the rookies. However apart from Malaysia, other teams to watch are Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland, South Africa, Nigeria, Canada, Cyprus, Jamaica, Bahmas, Guyana and Pakistan. The draw will be of 32 entries in men and women singles and entries will be accepted as per the ATP rankings. The Indian challenge will once again be spearheaded by Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. The two will play together in the doubles and also will figure in the mixed doubles with their respective partners.
On paper and on form the hosts are virtually assured of two-gold medals, Men’Doubles and Mixed Doubles. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi between have won incredible 22 Grand slams-Paes has to his credit 5 mixed and 6 doubles Grand Slam titles while Bhupati has won seven mixed and four doubles titles. Paes has become a part of country’s tennis since 1990, when he became third Indian to lift Wimbledon Junior Championship. He won India a bronze in 1996 olympics. Paes and Mahesh formed a formidable Indian Express duo in early 2000 emerged as unbeatable doubles pair. In one year they entered the final of all the four grand slams, winning two of them.
Other men’s doubles pair to represent the country is likely to be that of Yuki Bhambri and Rohan Bopana. While in the Men’s singles event, Somdev Devvermam Rohan Boppana and Yuki Bhambri are likely to lead Indian challenge. however there are other contenders- Vivek Shokeen, Divij Sharan, Ashutosh Singh, Navdeep Singh, VM Ranjeet, Vishnu Vardhan, Abhijeet Tiwari and Rohan Gajjar are working hard to stake their claims for a place in the team.
In fact All India Tennis Association (AITA) has short-listed 40 players—20 each in men and women section—for preparing the squad for the Games. Most of these probables have been to Nick Bolletieri’s academy in Florida (USA) for a 4-week training stint and according to coach Enrico Piperno “It’s a world class tennis centre, and the time spent there has done them an immense amount of good, particularly on improving their fitness. Chief Coach Jaideep Mukherjea was of the view visit to Bolletieri’s Academy was very good idea.”It helped them(probables) a lot as they got to play with quality players. Top ATP players like Tommy Haas, Max Mirnyi, Martin Damm were all there too, and seeing players like that sweating it out motivates you a lot. Veteran Mahesh Bhupathi is confident that India will do very well in the Games.”It’s really exciting that India is hosting the Commonwealth Games. We will try to get as many medals as possible,” he said adding that country has a bright future in Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri. “We have two good singles players in Somdev Dev Burman and Yuki Bhambri. Somdev is ranked 109 and very close to enter into the first 100. Yuki is a kid, really. But he has already improved remarkably. And in doubles, we have almost an unbeaten partnership! So, that augurs well for our chances in Davis Cup.”
Mahesh, was happy that
Sania Mirza had begun practicing tennis after her marriage and said: “It is is really a good news that she is on court again. So, that’s good for Indian tennis followers.” The Indian hopes in the singles rest on Somdev Devverman and Sania Mirza.
Recently Somdev earned the distinction of becoming the first Indian in 13 years to qualify for the main draw at Roland Garros. Leander Paes was the last Indian to play in the men’s singles here in 1997 and he lost in the second round to Magnus Norman. Somdev’s only previous Grand Slam entry was in the US Open last year where he lost to Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber. The Indian was unlucky to lose 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6 in a marathon first round match against Switzerland’s 65th-ranked Marco Chiudinelli.
The Indian had beaten the Swiss in their only previous meeting in Dubai earlier this year. On a given form and if the field is sans Murray and Baghdatis, SomDev has outside chance of a medal in the Singles event of the Games. Somdev is without doubt is the best thing to happen to Indian tennis in recent times. The way he led India to victory against South Africa in the Davis Cup in the absence of Paes and injured Bhupathi was very commendable. His recent showing against some top ranked players in the World including Hewitt has been reassuring for the Indian fans. Sania Mirza, is another medal hopeful for the country in her singles event. The Hyderabadi girl who recently got married to Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik, is the only India to have figured in the Asian Games singles final in 2006 which she eventually lost to Zheng Ji, who at present has a world ranking of 24.
Sania had beaten another Chinese Li Na (at present World number 12) in that Asiad. If she regains form there is every possibility of her being the first Commonwealth Games Women Tennis Gold medal winner. Ever since she emerged on the global arena, Indian women tennis was brought to the fore with her continuous success. Her consistent performance made her first ever Indian to thrust into the top 50 of WTA rankings.
Year 2005 gifted her the Hyderabad Open Trophy in the month February to make her first Indian woman to win WTA Tourney. Though she has not been in good form since her injury during the Beijing Olympics in 2008 but one hopes that she will regain her form soon. Sania has also been appointed the brand ambassador of the ‘Mega Tennis Event’ which is aimed at the development of sport in the country.
However Indians will be committing grave mistake if they underestimate their rivals. They should remember what happened to their Juniors in the 2008 Youth Commonwealth Games were held in Pune. The Indians failed to win any of the four Tennis golds at stake. They had to be content with two silvers and a bronze.
By Harpal Singh Bedi