A national level player who runs many tennis coaching centres in Mumbai, Kunal Thakkur has one vision, to see an Indian player ranked in the top-50 in the world in the next five years.
Apart from guiding young tennis players to good career, Kunal has been building the Tennis Premier League (TPL) along with Mrunal Jain, with the sole aim of enhancing the visibility of tennis and taking it to the next level.
‘’We are working 16 hours a day to host the league in the best possible way this season. We will do it at the Balewadi Stadium in Pune, and we will have national and international players, apart from players in the under-18 and 14 sections. We are trying to have live television coverage apart from live streaming in YouTube’’, said Kunal, during an interaction on Thursday.
The league is scheduled to be staged from December 7 to 11.
From not paying any money to the players in 2018 when it was started as a league for Maharashtra, the TPL has grown stronger, and will be offering Rs 1.2 crore in all to the players this season, with the money distributed across the board from the top players to the juniors.
“The top players will get an average of about four lakh rupees each and the juniors will get about two lakh rupees”, Kunal said.
Apart from Leander Paes and Sania Mirza, the league also has Bollywood stars, Sonali Bendre, Rakul Preet Singh and Aditi Rao Hydari. “Sonali’s son plays tennis. The stars are always ready to give their best support for tennis”, said Kunal.
Many players will be selected through Talent Day events in a few cities, which will offer Rs 50,000 for the selected men and women; Rs 30,000 for under-18 players, and Rs 20,000 for the under-14 players in each city.
The four matches spanning 80 points per tie in the TPL, will be played from 4.30 to 10 p.m. ‘’From 3 to 4 p.m. we will have matches for the juniors. We will have 70 minutes of break as well”, said Kunal.
From trying to have Goran Ivanisevic as the mentor last year, the plan has developed a lot more to have a string of foreign players, and brand ambassadors like Matthew Ebden, who won the Wimbledon doubles title.
India had hosted the big tennis leagues, the IPTL by Mahesh Bhupathi and the CTL by Vijay Amritraj, with roaring success. When asked if TPL will grow to such magnitude, Kunal said, “We want to grow slowly. We do want to have greats like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. But at the moment, our focus is to do everything to benefit Indian tennis.”
Every team will have about 10 players, and the youngsters will have a lot to learn by training and interacting with the top players. There will also be plenty of other activities, including sessions with the top coaches like Nandan Bal, Zeeshan Ali, M Balachandran, Radhika Tulpule, Ankita Bhambri, Suresh Krishna, Sunil Vyas.
Being done in collaboration with the All India Tennis Association (AITA) and the State association of Maharashtra, the TPL attempts to strengthen Indian tennis, rather than being a mere spectacle for five days.