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Catch Rafa in Anantpur academy
- Top player makes quiet visit to Andhra to open tennis school for poor

Hyderabad, Oct. 18: You may no longer need to cross the seas to watch Rafael Nadal hit a ball. Choose your time right, and you may be able to catch him in action closer home — in the Andhra Pradesh town of Anantpur.

The tennis world No. 1 yesterday inaugurated the Nadal Tennis School for poor children in backward Anantpur, giving the home district of Satya Saibaba of Puttaparthi a new claim to fame.

He promised to try and spend 15 days every year at the academy and to donate Rs 55 lakh towards the programme. Nadal said he would start participating in the training programme from June next year because it was too late to change his schedule this year.

“For me, it is both a game and also my contribution to humanity,” said the Spaniard.

Nadal, who lost in the Shanghai Open quarterfinals last weekend, flew into Bangalore yesterday and quietly travelled the 175km to Anantpur in a car, eschewing official security or publicity. He was accompanied by mother Anna Maria Nadal Parera and sister Maria Isabel.

After inaugurating the school — the first outside Spain that the Rafael Nadal Foundation has opened — the champion interacted with the 50-odd students and played a game against district collector B. Janardhan Reddy.

“It was a thrilling experience to play with Nadal,” said the collector who, of course, lost hands down.

“The aim of this trip (by Nadal) is to assist in the transformation of one of the poorest and most needy areas of India, Anantpur, and some of the poorest and most excluded communities in the world, the ‘dalits’ or untouchables, tribal groups, as well as the so-called disadvantaged castes,” Nadal’s website said.

The school, set up at Anantpur Sports Village in Anantpur town, has three quality clay courts and about 50 trainees aged over eight, although these numbers may later increase.

All the children are from schools run by the NGO Rural Development Trust ---- the local arm of the Vicente Ferrer Foundation of Spain ---- which will manage the tennis academy in collaboration with the Nadal Foundation.

Nadal also visited some nearby villages where the NGO runs centres for children with disabilities.

The Vicente Ferrer Foundation was set up by Spanish philanthropist Vicente Ferrer Moncho, who worked for half a century to improve the lives of the poor in southern India, and died aged 89 in Anantpur in June last year.

Nadal’s school will host district, state and national-level tournaments, and will lay equal emphasis on the children’s education and tennis training, said Moncho Ferror, Vicente’s son and RDT’s associate programme director.

The Nadal Tennis School is not the Vicente Ferrer Foundation’s first international sports tie-up. Recently, Joan Laporta i Estruch, former president of FC Barcelona, was in Bathalapalli near Anantpur to inaugurate the FC Barcelona Academy as a joint initiative with RDT.

“Spanish football is looking to India and this could just be the beginning,” said Moncho Ferrer.

The Barcelona academy will train 103 boys and girls aged between 11 and 13 years in football. Later, it may introduce hockey, kho-kho and kabaddi training too.

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