More emphasis on grass in future

In the current cycle, the first three legs have been on hard courts while the fourth leg in Kolkata and the Masters in Delhi would be on grass.

A file photo shows Paul Hutchins and Tim Henman interacting with the media.

Happy to have contributed to the grassroots level of tennis in India for the last four years and more recently in China, the Wimbledon Foundation may soon focus on spreading more grass events in the under-14 Road to Wimbledon competition in the future.

In a brief chat with Sportstar here on Tuesday, on his way to Chandigarh for the last two legs of the fourth edition of Road to Wimbledon, Tournament Director Paul Hutchins quoted the example of some of the big ATP events being supported financially for retaining grass in the run-up to Wimbledon.

There are six grass events immediately after the French Open, and some of them, like the one in Stuttgart, get financial support from Wimbledon to run the grass tournament.

"There are a lot of things we are planning which will take shape by the time we have the Masters event in Delhi in April," said Paul Hutchins, who has been frequently visiting the country ever since he made the first trip in 2009, prior to the Commonwealth Games.

"We are still in discussion about the ways forward as we finish four years of this project. In our plan for the next three years, we may push for more grass events and may continue to focus at the under-14 age group. Hope we have been able to make a difference so far," he said.

In the current cycle, the first three legs have been on hard courts while the fourth leg in Kolkata and the Masters in Delhi would be on grass.

Paul Hutchins said that the visit to China last year was very good and he was impressed by the world class infrastructure, especially in Nanjing which had six beautiful grass courts.

"Thanks to the involvement of Rolex, we had Li Na as part of our programme and it was very good," he said.

Tim Henman and coach Dan Bloxham have been visiting India regularly along with Paul Hutchins ever since the pilot scheme in 2014, and inspiring the kids to have a solid foundation for their tennis career.

Wimbledon is a dream destination for every tennis player and to help four Indian kids to feel the grass of Wimbledon in August has been a huge reward for them. The experience has invariably helped in fuelling their ambition to make a mark in the game.

"In the first two years, the Indian kids, Siddhant Banthia, Adil Kalyanpur, Sacchitt Sharma and Mahak Jain were able to win the UK under-14 championship. Last year, a Chinese girl was superior while a British kid won the boys title," recalled Paul Hutchins.

He was particularly pleased with the involvement with the Magic Bus organisation to help underprivileged kids, who had not even heard about tennis or its stars, to have a feel of the game and use tennis as a metaphor for a better approach to life.