Djokovic's 15th Grand Slam title triggers Indian memories

Former Indian tennis player Sunil Yajaman recalls watching 15-time Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic play in the Junior Davis Cup in 2003.

Seven-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic.   -  Getty Images

Novak Djokovic winning his 15h Grand Slam title with such authority against Rafael Nadal in Melbourne on Sunday triggered memories of a young boy making the big strides, about 15 years earlier in the Junior Davis Cup.

Sunil Yajaman, the former Junior Development Officer of the All India Tennis Association (AITA), recalled how Djokovic was a big name even when he played the under-16 event against India in Czech Republic in 2003.

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"I was the captain of the Junior Fed Cup team, and Nandan Bal was the captain of the Junior Davis Cup team. Our ties were on two courts side by side. Everyone was talking about the Yugoslavian No.1 who was also the European No.1. He already had some ATP rank, and was considered to be a star of the future," said Sunil, in a chat with Sportstar.

"I still remember those serves and ground strokes. [He was a] perfect clay courter, he would never miss a shot. He had so much power and was very versatile. Rupesh Roy matched him for every stroke and troubled him a bit. But, Novak had the kill to finish," added Sunil.

In fact, Djokovic won the doubles as well against Rupesh Roy and Sumit Gupta to put his team ahead, as Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan had put India in the lead by winning the first singles for the loss of four games.

"Two of our boys are now coaches and one is fighting to stay alive in doubles’’, said Sunil, trying to put things in perspective.

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Having watched Rafael Nadal and Kevin Anderson a year earlier in Junior Davis Cup in France, Sunil stressed the importance of a healthy environment and quality coaches to nurture players to world standards.

Interestingly, Djokovic did not have any remarkable results as a junior as he was already focused on the men’s circuit. Reaching the Australian Open semifinals in 2004 was his best result as a junior. He went on to win his first Grand Slam title four years later.

"We need events. If we conduct 10 Challengers every year for five years, there will be a good chance of having 8-10 top-100 payers. One or two of them will travel long," Sunil observed.

"We need to have a travelling team with a coach and trainer/physio, to ease off expenses for the players. They will tend to help or push each other to move up," he added.

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Of course, we need to have a good domestic circuit where the 14-16 years olds can gain experience by competing against the 25-30 year old professionals.

When Somdev Devvarman went to play the US Open juniors in 2003, he skipped a grade-1 junior event to play two weeks of ITF Futures.

"He had to be pushed into the deep waters. He came back and a month
later won his first ITF Futures title in Kolkata," Sunil recalled.

Indian tennis did deliver a world-beater in Sania Mirza, who reached No.27 in singles and stayed as World No.1 in women’s doubles for long.

"Sania was so strong mentally that even with limitations in her game she was always a winner in her mind," Sunil remarked.

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