As the 18 trainees of CLTA took their turn hitting the ball, two-time Grand Slam mixed doubles title winner, Jeremy Bates (56), was busy watching the kids approach the ball. Bates, who is a coach with the ‘Road to Wimbledon’ event, held a tennis clinic, along with former England tennis player, Lucie Ahl at the CLTA Tennis Stadium, Sector 10, Tuesday. With the Road to Wimbledon qualifiers happening in India for the seventh year and with this year’s qualifiers for boys event being played in Chandigarh, Bates believes that such opportunities for junior players in India will help them raise their game ahead of professional circuit.
“It’s a unique format and to see junior players have their first experience of playing on grass courts and at international stage is fantastic. Playing on grass requires different drills and exercises, relevant for such kind of surface. This helps junior players gain a lot of confidence before they enter world of professional tennis. It is also good to see players from small towns and village have their first experience at CLTA Academy. The way it is done is almost similar to All England Lawn Tennis Club, which is running the same thing with Road to Wimbledon. The last 17 years have seen more than 50,000 kids have their first experience of playing tennis and prepare these kids to embrace the world of professional tennis. This is our seventh year in India and the fact that the event first came to Asia, with India as host, makes the country special,” shared Bates.
Bates, who turned professional in 1982, reached the fourth round of Wimbledon in 1992 and became the first Briton to do so since 1982. The former British number one player won the mixed doubles title, along with his partner, Jo Durie, during Wimbledon in 1987, before winning the mixed doubles title with Durie in Australian Open in 1991.
Bates, who was Andre Agassi’s first opponent in a Grand Slam in the 1986 US Open, had a career high singles ranking of 54 and believes that mastering different courts is the key. “Nowadays, the surfaces are almost same, except for clay. In tournaments like Wimbledon, the All England Lawn Tennis Club controls the amount of water on grass and the surface is almost perfect. It plays like hard court and the ball speed is almost similar to the speed on hard courts. Players need a lot of versatility to tackle their opponents with similar kind of courts and if junior players play on all kind of surfaces, it helps them understand different conditions. In England, we are opening two new national academies in September, where players of age 13 years and onward, will study as well play tennis. This is a full professional scholarship programme, which will help junior players embark upon a professional career path,” shared Bates. As a member of the Great Britain Davis Cup team, Bates played every tie from 1985 to 1994 and also played against Indian players, like Ramesh Krishnan, Vijay Amritraj and Leander Paes, during his career.
Bates, who also coached the Great Britain Davis Cup team, apart from being the captain of the team from 2004 to 2006, believes that the new Davis Cup format is completely wrong. “During my career, I played against Ramesh Krishan in Wimbledon, Vijay Amritraj in an exhibition match in Mumbai and Leander Paes in Davis Cup in Delhi. Indian players are very skillfull and have achieved success on a global stage. About the new format of Davis Cup, I believe it is completely wrong to replace the old format. One can call me a traditionalist, but I believe the main challenge of Davis Cup lies in playing three or five-set matches over three days and in different conditions. The new format has made it just like another ATP event,” said Bates.