Wins by Ramkumar Ramanathan and Yuki Bhambri in the four singles rubbers carried India past New Zealand in the first round of the Asia/Oceania Group 1 Davis Cup tie. And on the night when the two emerged as India’s Davis Cup future, Bhambri came down heavily on the All India Tennis Association (AITA).
“It’s not about what can they do, it’s about if they have the desire,” says Bhambri, touted as the country’s biggest singles hope. “I don’t know if they have the desire. Everyone has come up in India by training by themselves and not through a system. Which is why we’ve had just one good player every 10 years.”
As a junior, the 24-year-old had won the Australian Open boys’ title in 2009. Despite showing potential early on, his transition to the professional circuit was hampered by injuries – due to lack of support staff. It has been a concern among all singles players, whose rankings do not allow them to compete in bigger events that offer greater prize money. So they lack the resources to invest in their own careers.
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“More money, more time, more resources, more tournaments,” says India’s outgoing non-playing Davis Cup captain Anand Amritraj on how the AITA can help players make the transition from juniors to the pro tour. “A travelling trainer and coach will also be a good idea because everybody seems to have one now,” he adds.
One of the critical requirements for players to make the jump to higher-level tournaments is competing in ATP Challengers, which serve as a bridge between the Futures and ATP Tour events. Alarmingly, India only hosted one such event last year, in Pune.
“We’ve seen the results. We saw it in 2013. There were three Challengers back-to-back. They were won by three Indians or at least the finals had three Indians,” says Bhambri, who has twice broken into the top 100 in singles, reaching a high of 88. “So it’s clear and apparent that if you host a tournament, the players are there to perform and it absolutely helps them. With the players we have right now, there’s a clear pool. Be it Saketh, be it Prajnesh, be it Ram, they will come out and play for the country on any given day.”
Amritraj too supports the idea, saying such events also provide financial support and ranking points to sustain the players. For the 2017 season, India does not have any Challenger events scheduled as of now. As it stands, the players will have to dig deep into their pockets to make it in tennis.
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