Calcutta, Jan. 25: The surge to the final in Melbourne began with a trip to Calcutta 13 years ago.
In a city used to its talent looking elsewhere for fulfilment, 18-year-old Rupesh Roy’s is a rare success story.
The tennis player, on the threshold of his maiden Grand Slam title tomorrow, had left his home in Patna and moved in with uncle Ramnath in Calcutta as a five-year-old to chase his dream.
No wonder the first phone call from Melbourne, after Rupesh and his partner had reached the Australian Open boys’ doubles final today, came to Ramnath’s home on Sridhar Roy Road.
“He sounded very happy and I told him to get enough rest and stay focused on the final,” said Ramnath, who with his elder brother Rameshwar were Rupesh’s first coaches.
Rupesh and Australian partner Stephen Donald face Britain’s Graeme Dyce and Finland’s Harri Heliovaara at 9.30 am Indian time tomorrow. The Calcuttan will have his sights firmly on the Slam silverware that eluded him in Wimbledon last year.
“If we can play like we did today, we can surely win the final. I’m on top of my game, Stephen is in great shape and things are looking good,” Rupesh told The Telegraph from the Bay View on The Park Hotel in Melbourne after the “tough” 6-3, 6-4 semi-final win over Koreans Soong-Jae Cho and Yong-Kyo Lim.
Rupesh has known what it takes since he was very young.
“His first title came at an under-10 meet. His next crown was the under-14 title, when he was just 12. He started participating in meets all over India,” remembered uncle Rameshwar.
“From a very early age, Ramnath and I could see he was very fit and athletic. He could grasp the tips quicker than others and was always eager to learn. He has amazing reflexes.”
But if the journey from the dusty clay courts of Calcutta Gymkhana in Park Circus to the bouncy Rebound Ace surface in Melbourne Park has been smooth, Calcutta must share some of the credit with Delhi and Boston.
Rupesh, the “first Indian to bag a 100 per cent scholarship” (worth $300,000 for three years), says the two-year stint in Boston’s Bosse Foundation under the tutelage of Steve Host sharpened his game and improved his staying power.
“I used to lose three-setters for lack of stamina. Now I feel much stronger thanks to the systematic regimen at the Foundation. I’m extremely grateful to the BTA (Bengal Tennis Association) for facilitating the scholarship (in end-2005),” he said.
The previous year, Rupesh had left for Gurgaon’s National Tennis Academy where coaching director T. Chandrasekaran fondly remembers him: “He had an excellent feel for the ball, a marvellous forehand and backhand and, above all, appeared to be a match-player. He seemed a tad defensive when he joined, preferring to stay on the baseline. I taught him to be a bit more aggressive and hit on the rise.”
Rupesh’s parents Ramvilash and Chinta Devi, in their modest home in Patna, would not know that Calcutta’s tennis circles have begun hailing their son as the “next best thing” after Leander Paes.
“It gives us a lot of satisfaction to see our endeavour bearing fruit. Calcutta has given the country a string of Davis Cuppers. Rupesh should be next in line,” said BTA secretary Hironmoy Chatterjee.
But former Davis Cup coach Akhtar Ali warned that Rupesh needed to quickly graduate to the senior tour.
“It’s great to see him do so well in the boys’ events but one mustn’t forget the huge gulf in standards between the junior and senior circuits. The sooner he graduates to the Futures and Satellites, the more he’ll develop his all-round game.”
Gary ’Brien, who trained Rupesh at the now defunct Paes En Sport in Calcutta, feels the boy has it in him to break into the top 200.
But the star himself, currently junior world No. 25, had his feet firmly on the ground on the eve of the biggest match of his career. “I just want to go out on court and give it my best shot,” he said.
Calcutta will be praying his best is good enough.