Gaurav Natekar takes us down memory lane

In Chennai for the HCL inter-school tennis challenge, Gaurav speaks fondly about his time spent at the Britannia Amritraj Trust (BAT) in the city, where he came as a 13-year-old, on the current Indian singles players and his memorable Davis Cup ties, among other things.

Gaurav Natekar won the men's doubles gold medal at the Asian Games in 1994.   -  Stan Rayan

Gaurav Natekar is a former National singles (hard court and grass-court) champion, Asian Games gold medallist and a Davis Cupper. As the CEO of the Mahesh Bhupathi Tennis Academies, he is busy travelling around India conducting tournaments for juniors, in an attempt to scout young talent.

In Chennai for the HCL inter-school tennis challenge, Gaurav speaks fondly about his time spent at the Britannia Amritraj Trust (BAT) in the city, where he came as a 13-year-old, on the current Indian singles players and his memorable Davis Cup ties, among other things.

On the BAT experience

I came here in 1985 when I was 13 years of age. I was in the first batch. Leander (Paes) came a year later. BAT was way ahead of its time. There has been no residential, structural and professional training academy like BAT.

BAT has produced an Olympic medallist, multiple Asian games medallists, so many Davis Cuppers and National champions. I am sure if I had not come to BAT I wouldn’t have achieved whatever little I’ve done in my career. At 13, BAT toughened me up, gave a worldwide view of professional coaching.

What were the main ingredients of success at BAT?

We had two foreign coaches, Ted Murray and Fred Roecker. I was there till I was 18 years of age. It funded everything. It was because of Britannia and its parent company National Biscuit Company (NABISCO) based in USA. The Amritraj family took a personal interest, driving the whole academy.

On the BAT reunion last year

It started with me and Fred, who is a Stage IV cancer survivor, casually discussing so many things in the 2014 US Open championships. Then, we realised 2015 would be 30 years of BAT. We visited several jaunts.

First, we went to an apartment in Poes Garden where we stayed. We knocked on the door of a couple and said that we had stayed here 30 years back and wanted to see it. They were kind enough to show us.

We played tennis at Madras Gymkhana Club; 12 to 15 of us. Vijay and Anand Amritraj were kind enough to host lunch for us. Maggie Amritraj became emotional. It was a great two days for us.

Major highlights of Davis Cup career

It had to be the quarter-finals of the World Group tie in 1993, where we beat France 3-2 in France on clay. I was part of the team but didn’t play. France had two players in the top 10 of the world; A. Boetsch and Henri Leconte, whereas we didn’t have a player in the top 100. We were able to pull off what ITF called ‘the biggest upset in the 100–year history of the Davis Cup.’ Sitting courtside and helping the team was in itself an amazing experience.

On the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima where you won two gold medals doubles with Leander and the team gold

Till then India hadn’t won many Asian Games medals. Only athlete P.T.Usha had won medals in the Games before.

 

On the best Indian mixed doubles pair for the Rio Olympics

For Sania Mirza, it is a very tough call. Leander has had success in mixed doubles with Martina Hingis. It is no secret that Rohan (Bopanna) and Sania get along well. I would say that Rohan-Sania would make a good pair. I am sure she will weigh all the options and take a decision, which is in the best interest of the nation.

On the current crop of players

I think Somdev's fitness is incredible, which is something every Indian player should emulate. Yuki’s (Bhambri) achievement (breaking into the top 100) is huge despite not having something big in his arsenal. It is obvious that his consistency and fitness have been great. Saketh (Myneni) is knocking on the doors of the top 100. Given his luck and the kind of sponsors he gets, he will do well. He should have a good support team as that is very important.

Anand (Amritraj), the captain of the Indian Davis Cup team, told me once that we have three players who can play singles in Davis Cup depending on form, fitness and venue. In the last 25-30 years no Davis Cup captain has had as much choice as far as singles are concerned. It’s a good sign.