Game, set, match

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By With a career in tennis, money and fame could be yours for the taking. Swagata Sen reports
  • Published 22.06.05

There’s a story about Leander Paes which goes like this: As a 16-year-old, he had come back from Melbourne after losing the Australian juniors title, sat across his former mentor Naresh Kumar’s table, and said, “Not to worry, I’ll win the Wimbledon this time.”

Paes did win the Wimbledon junior title that year, and went on to become India’s hottest tennis star. You might hear similar stories about Mahesh Bhupathi or Sania Mirza doing the rounds. After all, that’s the kind of confidence you need to be a successful tennis player.

In a country where all parents want is that their kids should study hard, and take up a job, not many consider tennis as a career option. But the current crop of players like Paes, Bhupathi and Mirza has, to some extent, changed people’s mindsets. Then there’s also an upcoming player like Rupesh Roy. The 16-year-old boy, who is ranked 62nd among juniors in the world, is currently on a three-year all-expenses-paid scholarship of $3,00,000 with the Bosse Foundation in Boston.

That tennis is getting popular is evident from the way tennis academies are coming up in and around cities.

Holding court

Calcutta will soon have two new academies ? Mahesh Bhupathi’s tennis school in Rajarhat, and Aussie former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash’s outfit which will be a tie-up with the Bengal Tennis Association (BTA).

Satyajit Burman pulled his children Samriddh and Shivika out of school so that they could take up tennis full-time. “My daughter, who’s now 16, has travelled 20 countries playing tournaments. That is education in itself,” says Burman.

“The ideal age to start practising is eight,” says Hironmoy Chatterjee, secretary, BTA. “Although now, we’re holding mini tennis camps for five-year olds,” he adds. Usually, a player starts playing pro-tennis at 12. “It depends on how fast you can move ahead. If you’re good, you can start playing at the senior level at 15 or 16. Or, you can play at the junior level till you’re 18,” says Chatterjee.

Technical adviser and tennis coach Tejbir Singh Bhandari says he looks for four qualities in a budding tennis player. “They are: general health, hand-eye coordination, reflexes and footwork.”

Rich pickings

At the junior level, players receive no prize money. At the senior level, however, the sky is the limit. International stars can earn millions in a year as prize money and through endorsements. “Even players ranked among the top 100 nationally can make up to Rs 2-5 lakh a year as prize money in one season. Compare this to the maximum of Rs 1 lakh that a state captain in cricket can earn,” says Chatterjee. The likes of Sania Mirza or Mahesh Bhupathi, even if they don’t get past the second round in international tournaments, could earn a minimum of $100,000 a year.

Not just that. Tennis players are also employed by companies such as ONGC, or government departments like Central Excise, Customs, etc., through the sports quota. And coaching is always an option after your days of competitive tennis are over.

Of course, to be able to achieve all this is you must have natural talent and dedication. A typical day for a tennis player involves six to eight hours of practice everyday, and little time for anything else. Taking up tennis as a sport also involves spending as much as Rs 10,000 every month on equipment, travel expenses and coach’s fees. “But that’s because the game is a passport to unprecedented success,” says Bhandari.

Tennis Academies

Bengal Tennis Association, Salt Lake, Calcutta

Jaidip Mukerjea Tennis Academy, Salt Lake, Calcutta

Akhtar Ali's Academy, South Club, Calcutta

The Britannia Amritraj Tennis Academy, Chennai

Krishnan’s Tennis Centre, Chennai

Tennis Village, Bangalore

Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association Cooperage, Mumbai