COVID-19: Indian tennis waiting to blossom again with local-level tourneys

Guidelines from ITF and USTA should be looked at when kickstarting tennis, says Maharashtra Tennis Association secretary-general Sunder Iyer.

Localising and reducing travel would be essential when tennis resumes.   -  AP (REPRESENTATIVE)

It is hard for active sports people to stay idle for long. Considering the devastating impact of COVID-19 across the globe, there will definitely be a lot of cautious steps taken before sports springs back to life at the national and international level. Tennis will be no exception.

“Everyone is keen to resume sport. We have discussed about what needs to be done, to get players back on tennis courts. There are guidelines from the International Tennis Federation (ITF). There are guidelines from the USTA. We have to localise. We may have to keep crowds away. We may have to keep parents away. We need plans to help coaches take care of themselves,” said Sunder Iyer, secretary general of the Maharashtra Tennis Association, who served as the manager of the Indian Davis Cup team for the last two ties against Pakistan and Croatia.

Plan

Having organised more than 1,500 tournaments at the local, national and international level, Sunder, a qualified coach who dabbled in law and journalism before moving to sports administration, is clear about the path ahead.

“We have to get the local guys to play first. Starting with restrictions to facilities for people of that area. Even for the AITA, we have worked out a plan, starting with local level tournaments, so that there is not much travel involved,” said Sunder in an Instagram conversation with coach M. Balachandran where the duo discussed many topics related to tennis.

Sunder visualised players travelling by October, and getting into their groove before that with local events. He suggested that tennis may have to grow, to be more popular. The fresh start could be the ideal time to tweak the norms.

Sunder Iyer (left) with Rutuja Bhosale and Mahak Jain, during a tournament. Photo: Special Arrangement

 

“Most of the corporates are playing golf!,” said Sunder, about the need to keep tennis close to the hearts of the decision makers.

Difficult for fans

“It is hard on the fans. They cannot bring water or food. No walking, no talking in the stands. People are coming to watch sports to enjoy. As a sport, we may have to grow,” said Sunder, even though he acknowledged that the die hard fans pack the stands, like they did when Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan competed in the finals of the ATP event in Pune.

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Emphasising the focus to tap talent from the rural areas, Sunder pointed out how one such player in Prarthana Thombare from Nasik went on to win Asian Games medal and compete in the Rio Olympics as Sania Mirza’s doubles partner. Sunder said it was not easy to replicate the Maharashtra model in the whole country, as different States had different problems, and that priorities were different.

“If we put all the good ideas in one plate, we can come up with a good dish,” said Sunder.

‘Lot of churning’

He revealed that many leading players, including Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna, had ideas that can be developed. “We cannot race ahead of time. The right time has to come for ideas to take shape. Our focus is the development of Indian players. We can add value to everyone’s life. We will get good results. There is a lot of churning going on, and the ground is getting fertile,” said Sunder.

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With a new beginning in the horizon, Sunder was confident that, “if you do good work, a lot of people would join the journey.”

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