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Indian Player's Problems - How can fans help ? (Collection of notes)
Please read the important topic in the July 21 Notes 1 & 2, and the July 26 Note-3 ..
Email me (jay) if you have thoughts, ideas for support, etc.
The following are a collection of notes on issues such as Players needing support, Good and bad things done by AITA, Crimes committed at the Chennai tournament, Nirupama's travails, etc.. You might find more details on these issues at the appropriate complete weekly notes accessible through the weekly notes index (link above) .. The notes collected below are somewhat more vitriolic in criticism than the tone you will find in the fanclub weekly notes you normally see.
July 26 Note-3
Here is the Indian Express report today (I am told Sharda Ugra of The Hindu also had a story on this, but I haven't seen it):
Fazal's Coach Stirs Hornet's Nest
Nikhila Natarajan, Indian Express, New Delhi, July 25
"IT'S all bunkum," said R K Khanna, president of the All India Tennis Association, reacting to a letter written to him by Davis Cupper Syed Fazaluddin's coach, Andrew Sorrentino. In the letter, Sorrentino, coach at Temple University, where Fazaluddin is a student, has said, "It is an embarrassment to you, to Indian tennis and to the All India Tennis Association that Mr. Syed Fazaluddin has not received adequate financial and political support."
Though Khanna claims that Fazal's father and National football coach, Syed Nayeemuddin, said that "Sorrentino is not Fazal's coach," in a telephonic conversation with Davis Cup selection committee chairman, Anil Khanna, Nayeemuddin had a different version when contacted this evening. "Since I have not yet seen the letter, I misunderstood the name of the coach in question. Sorrentino is indeed Fazal's coach at the University and has helped him right through. I am proud that he thinks so highly of my son," he said on hearing the contents of the letter.
Elsewhere in the letter, Sorrentino says, "I have tried through very modest means to support Syed Fazaluddin's recent professional career but without serious financial support he will become another of the many talented players that burn out while fighting their way through the Futures tournaments. Thus far, the expenses that Fazal has incurred are in excess of $5,000. It is inconcievable that at the very least, the All India tennis Association cannot arrange for one of its own Davis Cup team members to obtain a racquet, clothing, or sneaker sponsorship. While the top 200 juniors routinely recieve free coaching and sponsorship, Fazal still buys his own racquets, clothing and shoes when he can ill afford them."
In any case, the larger issue of individual sponsorship to India's top tennis players is still in a limbo with R K Khanna stressing instead that AITA is bringing in a lot more international tournaments - 16 Satellites a year, and more WTA and junior ITF tournaments. "Everything's finalised. Now that our players can get ATP points in India they should play tournaments here rather than travel abroad and increase their expenses," Khanna reasoned. Later he did admit that it is AITA's policy not to go all out on individual sponsorship. "If we do that for one person, on what basis do we refuse the other players?" he asked. About selecting at least India's best talents Syed Fazaluddin, Prahlad Srinath - for monetary help, Khanna sidestepped saying that "they make enough money from Davis Cup".
As for Nirupama Vaidyanathan, the AITA and DLTA had pooled in Rs 4 lakh earlier this year. Asked whether they would continue with the sponsorship on a yearly basis, Khanna was noncommittal. He also said that bulk of the Rs. 2 crore annual income from the RK Khanna stadium was being routed to the new junior develoment programme. On that front, the latest development is that Rs 1.5 lakh has been given to each of 20 state associations for the new coaching programme and the sponsored, academy-based junior programme is scheduled to get underway in the first week of October where AITA will pay about Rs 60,000 per year for each selected student at the academy.
Hmm.. Looks like I started a little controversy here .. Now I feel a bit guilty in perhaps landing Fazal in a bit of a soup, when he was away in Greece and was unaware of his coach sending me a copy of the letter that started it all (July 21 Notes) .. Coach Sorrentino felt it couldn't hurt to publish it here, though it may have, to some extent .. I am sure the AITA response is not a surprise to anybody, and some of their problems in subjectively selecting one or two players and supporting them may be understandable in the Indian system where everybody else complains whenever someone is selected for support, even if it is based on objective criteria ! .. The letter was published here to show the fans and others the need to do something to help our talented players, not to really attack AITA .. By the way it was just 4 weeks back ( June 28 Note-1 here) that AITA released their new plans to introduce more international tournaments (see June 29 Notes), and I had a long piece commenting and disagreeing with a Times of India article that had some criticizm on AITA's plans .. Incidentally, Fazal was the first player who contacted me and said he was in agreement with AITA's schemes and how it would help a lot (see June 30 Note-4) .. Since I am in a bit of a damage control mode, I thought I would point that out, though I don't think that is going to reach AITA .. Brickbats always reach their destinations, bouquets often do not ! .. But then again, it's alright if AITA takes some heat, as that comes with their job .. All fans, like me, are much more on the players' side, always.
Basically the bottom line is that all these players need help. AITA has taken some good steps, especially this year, but I have to disagree with the above statement from RK Khanna that the international tournaments in India and acedemy-based coaching are the answer to all problems. They are good and correct steps, but a few other things need to happen too .. Sponsorship is a must and whatever AITA can do in organizing sponsorship deals for players, be it in contacting potential sponsors, putting players in touch with them, or keeping good information on the potential and progress of each of the top players and providing that to potential sponsors .. Things of that nature need to be done. AITA plans to spend good money on coaching programs and in supporting selected students with Rs 60K each at the academies, but all that will take them only to a certain level .. They are essential steps, and will help in identifying more and more potential talents in the 12 through 17 age range and starting them off right (if the coaches who are getting paid money do their job .. The old question of accountability comes up again there) .. The next issue that AITA cannot overlook is what happens when the players are ready to "take the next step" .. i.e, what happens when one has gone through the AITA's regional coaching, or the coaching at an academy like Dhaita, and wants to grow from there ? .. The international tournaments in India, however many, are not enough to continuously pick up or defend points, play against enough higher competition and move up the tennis ladder.
Let me ask a specific question: If, say, Fazal, Vijay Kannan or Harsh Mankad does well in the 2 satellites and 2 futures in India (i.e., pick up about 30-40 ATP points; it's very rare that anybody does better), and move inside the world top-400 or 600 by next February, where do they go for support to carry on ?? .. Are there any sponsors that AITA has in mind ? .. The IMGs of the world (the professional sponsorship/management folks) would want to wait till much later before signing anybody up .. Need an example ? .. Nirupama was 18 and had reached the world top-200 two years back, all with her father selling land and finding money .. Not an iota of sponsorship went her way till February of this year (she still gets nothing much, in fact) .. Remember that the players need to play week in and week out to keep their rankings, and need someone to look after and help them .. and AITA needs to just face the fact that players can and do out-grow Indian academies and need to go out and play on their own regularly in the tough junior or pro tours to move to the higher levels (this is a complicated issue, that we will get into another time, along with the issue of a national coach who keeps track of the players, nurtures them, etc) ..
.. And, about sponsors in India, the less said, the better. To quote from an email I received from a well-respected authority in Indian tennis (name withheld fow now), "On the Fazal Issue, It is the Corporate sector that needs to help. AITA's job is to serve the general interest of the game starting from the club player to Leander .. The bottom line is, the Indian Corporate Sector does not suffer from "social conscience". They do not think utilising a miniscule percentage of their MEGA profits (made by selling their SUB STANDARD products to the poor souls..) to promote TALENT in ANY SPORT, ART or any other form is necessary" .. The question is, if AITA does not have any plans to do something to elicit at least some response from the corporate sector, who does ?? .. I don't know the answer, and I am not saying that AITA has the ability, contacts, and manpower needed to find sponsorship for all the players either, though I feel they are in better shape than the players themselves in doing something ..
It all comes down to us fans too, which is why I started this off. Can we find support for our players by organizing ourselves ? .. There are tons of Indians around the world who can help if there is an avenue, I strongly believe .. I repeat, the strength of Indians, if nothing else, is in numbers and why can't those who like to see their home country continue its tradition in at least one sport where it has a good one, join in and support ? .. After all, tennis *is* the favorite game that most NRIs around the world play, isn't it ? .. Is a $200K in contributions (or even investments) a year in the name of a few players, that impossible ? .. I don't think so .. If we can do this, Fazal's coach wouldn't have to write to AITA, AITA wouldn't have to go on the defensive (or offensive if they chose to - I hope not), AITA can organize tournaments and run their academies, and I could just enjoy reporting results and news here. So, do write to me, if you can help, or have an idea, so we can start a concrete scheme for support .. That is why I am spending all this time on this issue. Fazal just sent a note saying how whatever we do would certainly help potential future players even if it doesn't help him right now (and if AITA takes out their anger on Fazal who was not the one who started it all, it may even end up hurting him; I hope it doesn't come to that).
July 25 Note-1
The Fazuluddin story continues .. The press seems to have followed up on the letter published here (July 21, Note-2), though to some extent I hadn't wished to create that much noise - just didn't want Fazal to run into trouble .. Anyway, I have got the Indian Express report for the Sunday edition emailed to me (thanks!) .. It is going to press right now, so I will wait till the newspaper comes online before publishing it here .. AITA has a response in the matter .. Coming later today.
July 24 Note-1
On the player-support issue (see below) .. Some stuff coming your way soon on Harsh Mankad, the 19-yr old with six junior national titles, but forgotten and neglected by everybody in India for over a year .. We will continue our crusade for supporting the talented Indian players ..
July 23 Note-1
Fazal should be on his way to England (the 4-week British satellite circuit starts next week) .. If you have not read the last two notes below, please read carefully, and respond to me, on the issue of how the fans can come up with a way to directly support Indian tennis players. So far, I must say I have not been overwhelmed by the response from you all, to put it mildly (:-)) .. A couple of very promising ideas are emerging though.
July 21 Note-2
Continuing on the theme in the last note below, on support for developing our top tennis players, here is something I received from Andrew Sorrentino, Head coach at Temple University, Philadelphia (the Atlantic-10 coach of the year, 1997), who has been coaching Syed Fazaluddin at the university. Just the outpouring of emotions from this one person should make us all sit up and think about how poorly India has handled one of our very best, Fazal .. I am reprinting the letter of July 4th, with permission from Coach Sorrentino, who is awaiting a response from AITA, which I hope will reach him soon.
From: Andrew Sorrentino c/o Aronimink Tennis Club 3600 St. David's Road Newtown Square, Pa. 19073 USA
To: Mr. Raj Khanna, President c/o All India Tennis Association DLTA Tennis Complex Africa Avenue New Delhi 110029 India
Dear Mr. Khanna,
I am writing to you on behalf of Mr. Syed Fazaluddin, whom I have coached in the U.S. for the past four years. Mr. Syed Fazaluddin came into my life looking to fulfill his dream of representing his beloved country in Davis Cup competition as well as obtaining an education at an American University. He has accomplished both with a strong work ethic and a passion seldom seen in young men, but often seen in Champions. I have watched this young man develop from a mere boy into a fierce competitor that would make any coach or parent proud. Mr. Syed Fazaluddin is the perfect representative of the sport of tennis, a gracious sportsman with the heart of a tiger, overflowing with talent and the desire to accomplish his lofty goals.
I write this letter with confusion in my mind and frustration in my heart. I do not understand how this young man, so committed to tennis and his country could meet so much resistance and be so poorly supported by his own tennis federation. It is an embarassment to you, to Indian Tennis and to The All India Tennis Association that Mr. Syed Fazaluddin has not received adequate financial and political support. It is, without a doubt, each nations responsibility to promote and enhance the careers of their most promising athletes. Any tennis association in the world would be proud to have a representative of Mr. Syed's character and ability. If Fazal was an American born player, the USTA would be grooming this gifted grasscourt player to win Wimbledon, not struggle on the Futures Circuit. Yet he has been ignored by your country, by your federation and by potential supporters of India's up and coming star athletes. In a country with little international sporting recognition, but with such a great history of tennis champions respected around the world, it would seem in the best interest of Indian Tennis to lend it's unconditional support to one of it's own world class athlete. Why has this not been the case for Mr. Syed Fazaluddin, Mr. Khanna?
I have tried through very modest means to support Mr. Syed Fazaluddin's recent professional career, but without serious financial support Mr. Syed will become another of the many talented players that burn out while fighting their way through the Futures Tournaments. With my help Fazal has paid his own way through this circuit which has taken him from Philadelphia to Florida, Canada, next to Greece and finally to England . Thus far, the expenses that Fazal has incurred are in excess of $5000.00. It is inconcievable that at the very least The All India Tennis Federation cannot arrange for one of it's own Davis Cup Team Members to obtain a racquet clothing, or sneaker sponsorship. While the top 200 juniors in the U.S. routinely receive free coaching and sponsorship, Fazal still buys his own racquets, clothing and shoes when he can afford them. These are incredible facts, but very true.
I do not claim to understand the political reasoning behind this neglect, in my mind politics should have no place in sports, but that would be in a perfect world. What I do know is that I have had the priviledge to coach, support, counsel, and love one of the most extraordinary young men I have ever met. I challenge you to take a hard look at the future and do the same. In a country so renowned for it's precious gems, it is hard to believe that you have yet to notice and covet this most brilliant jewel.
Take a deep breath .. That is about as powerful a letter as one can write to support Fazal, and it shows the frustration that someone like coach Sorrentino feels about the situation. Though the coach suspects that Fazal may be singled out in the neglect, the fact is that this is the case with all talented players in India. He makes a very important point about how tennis is one event where India has some respect around the world, and his confusion is fully justified about why India ignores one of her very best in the only International sport where India has any presence in the world arena (cricket doesn't count, much as we all like the game). The Indian #4 and the current Davis Cupper does not even have a shoe or racket contract .. And at this time, we don't even know what is up with our #3, Prahlad Srinath .. That is all a crying shame .. One needs to only go down to any Florida academy to see 15 year old kids (90% of them never cracking into the world top-200) with every kind of support from many, many, national tennis associations and other sponsors .. India's women #1, Nirupama Vaidyanathan, ranked near the world top-150 and the only Indian woman ever to break into even the world top-400 I believe, has had to be in Florida, paying her way for coaching, and watching these kids go around with support from all kinds of sources .. Uzma Khan, Radhika Tulpule, P.Vishal, Harsh Mankad, Akshay Vishal Rao, Manisha Malhotra, Vijay Kannan, Manoj Mahadevan, Shruti Dhawan, Sheetal Gautam, etc, etc .. The list is long, on talented youngsters who need coaching and support .. Clearly 950 million people can do more, and we have work to do.
I did not reprint that letter here to attack AITA (and neither did coach Sorrentino want it to be taken that way), and they have not yet had a chance to respond to the coach either .. As I have said before, AITA does a much better job than most other sports authorities in India. All I wanted was to make a point about how India as a country, and Indians as a group should realize how much we neglect our own talented ones. I know that most of us are aware of the situation, though it surprises coach Sorrentino .. I waited for a few days before publishing this here, as I did not want anybody to get upset about it. Then I chose to do it today, as I felt it is better for all of us to get upset than let the situation in tennis go on with no change.
As always, I am sure the fanclub here, and myself are willing to do whatever we can in organizing help for Indian players. I am talking fund-raising itself .. Anybody has a thought ? - I have some, but I welcome comments from all of you before embarking on any serious action-plan .. Any idea such as fund-raising groups, or support-funds earmarked in each player's name that we can contribute to, or any other schemes would be fine, with the caveat that we should avoid giving anyone the power to decide who gets what support .. I know there are many in India and around the world who would help if they knew it would go directly to the players .. I am sure each fan who reads this knows a few who have the wherewithal to contribute too .. Please send an email to me (r. jayakrishnan) if you have thoughts on what is the best way for Indian tennis fans to take matters into their own hands, rather than wait for the sports authorities to do anything .. And yes, we can count on support from those like Leander and Mahesh (I have already talked to LP who even spoke of more than moral support from him .. will chat with Mahesh when he is free next). I need input from the fund-raising and sponsorship experts among those of you reading this, and even lawyers on what all of you think is the best way to go about. Even if you think it is not going to go anywhere, write to me so we can see why we shouldn't try to do something .. Then we will set things in motion. I am dead serious .. Do not underestimate the power that internet has given directly to the fans to organize by themseleves to do something good. So, let us do it.
I said in an earlier note that you were warned .. Now you have been attacked .. So, Respond !
July 21 Note-1
17-yr old Uzma Khan and Helga Rieira (Angola) lost in the final of the Swiss Junior open tennis tournament this weekend, to Eva Dyrberg and Rikke Faurfelt (both of Denmark), 5-7, 6-3, 2-6 .. Eva Dyrberg is the 6th ranked junior player in the world in doubles, and is the #2 player for Denmark in their Fed Cup team, I believe. This grade-2 ITF junior tournament is a big one, and Uzma will get some good ITF ranking points to boost her doubles rank (not sure where it stands now, as ITF never seems to publish the world ranking below the top-20 .. my guess is that Uzma is somewhere in the top-60 or so) .. Congratulations to Uzma for doing that well with an unheard-of partner that she must have met only during this ITF-sponsored European tour (hey, who knew they even played tennis in Angola ? .. just kidding).
Talking of Uzma, is anybody doing anything about finding her some sponsorship ? .. AITA had promised a Rs. 1 lakh ($2400) a few weeks back, but that is barely enough to go to one or two foreign tournaments. Uzma turns 18 at the end of the year, and I believe will be eligible to play junior (18 and under) ITF events all the way through the end of 1999. She needs to be competing against top juniors from now on out, at the bigger international ITF junior events (such as the Orange Bowl in the US, Copa Ericsson in South America, etc) .. She cannot pick up enough ITF points otherwise to qualify for the grand slam junior events either .. I don't think she has anything much to prove in those lower-grade junior events in the Indian subcontinent - not a soul from the Indian subcontinent has beaten Uzma in about a year, in some 20-30 singles matches (playing in India, SriLanka, Bangladesh, etc). She has been consistently good in both singles and doubles. Thank God for the International Tennis Federation for selecting her for this junior developmental squad for Europe. This was the 5th and the last tournament of her tour, based on the news report I have from June. OK, now ITF has done their part. What is India doing to help this girl ? .. What about coaching ? .. Are we waiting for her also to sell all family property to try out the pro circuit, like Nirupama ? .. Forget it, if that is what AITA and everybody else is waiting for .. Indian girls just disappear at around this age if serious financial and other encouragement is not given for them to break out of the conservative soceital pressures that scares them away from the uncertain arena of pro tennis .. We cannot wait for miracle path-breakers like Nirupama to keep sprouting .. If we need women's tennis to improve in India, we need to work for that. Uzma has been playing Fed Cup for India since she was 16, and has an unblemished 5-0 record so far in Fed Cup. She is the most proven junior talent in the country right now .. What the heck are we waiting for ?
More coming on this .. next up: on Syed Fazaluddin.
June 28 Note-1
No tennis at Wimbledon today, so let us discuss something else.
There is a very interesting article in the Times of India Saturday, by V. Srivatsa, about the new AITA calendar, the lack of a grasscourt nationals and the new emphasis on international tournaments at the expense of national tournaments. Quoting extensively from the article,
Even the AITA seems to feel that grass is for cows. What it does not seem to realise is that it is ending a tradition. The grasscourt champion has always been the real national champion .. For years Calcutta's South Club was the venue for the real national championships. Later, Delhi joined in as a grasscourt centre and for a number of years hosted the nationals along with the Northern India championships. Chandigarh and Pune also followed suit and in recent years even far-flung places like Dibrugarh and Digboi in Assam staged it in troubled times in the state .. To ask where is the grass in the country and where are the takers for the nationals is like crying for help after drilling a hole in the boat. The grass courts were destroyed deliberately and systematically. A case of slow poisoning .. First the grasscourts in the Capital were replaced with synthetic courts and today there are only two courts with any greenery at the R. K. Khanna Stadium --the main stadium court and another practice court for Davis Cup play. Then Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi went on record that they may review the current policy of playing Davis Cup matches at home on grass.
I can see the sentiments here .. The comment on the Calcutta South Club is certainly poignant (see my comments yesterday about a clay tournament in Calcutta!) .. But we have to realize that the world has given up on grass tennis. Nobody, except a few Australians are achieving anything on grass now .. Look how England has such a tough time producing anybody inside the top-150 in the world .. Same with India (Leander can hardly find 4 tournaments to play on grass a year) .. Let us face it, the world has gone to clay and hardcourts, and we have players skipping Wimbledon alrogether. It's the writing on the wall. Futile to fight it, hard as it is for us grass tennis fans in India.
The deterioration of tennis at home began with the scrapping of a number of regular domestic tournaments because sponsors were not willing to sink money into a bottomless pit .. The calendar is so packed with ATP and ITF tournaments that it is likely to help overseas players more in garnering points. The AITA has done well to take care of the 14-16 age group by roping in Adidas with 34 tournaments in two circuits, one in the summer and another in the winter .. What about 18 plus and seniors? They cannot hope to make money playing in the circuit. Ask Nandan Bal and Rico Piperno and they will say that the circuit competition was very keen. Without the domestic circuit, how many Indians can hope to qualify for any of the Challenger or Satellite tournaments? ..
Here I have to disagree .. Look where all the domestic "competition" has got us .. 4 players in the world top-1000 and the others have rarely beaten beat any foreigners in those one or two international tournaments India was having over the last couple of years. If the player is good enough, he/she will win a few international matches and get those valuable points. Just look at what it did to Syed fazaluddin just this year. He played in two india futures this year, won the title in one, and moved inside the top-900 .. One more win in the vadodara challenger, and he is inside the top-700. Now he has a chance to get direct entries into many futures abroad, as he has done in the last few weeks in the US and Canada. Now he can go and try the circuits in England next month. Could he planned to go fully into the pro circuit like this if he had played in 15 domestic tournaments and got no ATP points ? .. Remember that Indians find air travel very expensive (India is perhaps the one place that is farthest from most of the centers of tennis in the world and air fares are among the highest to go from and to India .. plus it gets even worse when you consider the Rupee exchange rates) .. Indians need international tournaments in India. Let those foreigners spend their money and come there, and the Indians can beat a few and garner points. I think the above paragraph has reverse logic that doesn't wash !
.. As for the "seniors", if you aren't able to make a move after playing in 10 or 15 international tournaments over 2-3 years in India, there probably isn't much chance you are going to cut it in pro tennis. Cruel reality, but that's how it is .. Now, there was a time when domestic circuits made sense, and that was when quite a few international players used to come to India (some even liked the cowdung courts, not to mention all the grasscourts, in India). The emergence of ATP has changed all that. ATP points are the name of the game now. You can't get that with domestic tournaments. What is important now is that every effort must be made to give the wildcrd entries to Indians in these tournaments. 4 wildcards plus a couple of direct entries and 2 or 3 qualifiers would give us 7 or 8 Indians in each tournaments (in the three India Futures, we had 8, 9 and 8 Indians in the main draw). As long as the junior circuit is going on extensively, as it does now with the Adidas support, we will know who the talented young ones are, who need to be given chances .. If there are 8 to 10 international futures/satellites, as AITA's schedule now plans, there will be up to 10 to 12 good players most of whom will get into at least 4 or 5 of those. That is plenty of opportunities. If the "seniors' get left behind, well, too bad ! .. Other than the few current seniors, this is not an issue in another 2-3 years .. The new plan gives a chance for several talented juniors (the Vijay Kannans, Manoj Mahadevans and Harsh Mankads) to try to fulfill their potential. More importantly, the Indian coaches will get a chance to interact and improve themselves with exposure to foreign coaches who come to India, the Indian people will have a chance to see upcoming foregin players and more parents and kids in India will consider the possibilities in pro tennis, sponsorship is somewhat easier for international tournaments, etc, etc, etc ..
There is of course the Chinese model .. there aren't a ton of internationals in China, but the players are completely supported by the government for foreign travel .. If India can do this well, fine. But I don't think that will ever work well, and we all know why.
Basically, I find it funny that we are complaining about AITA trying to do something. May be their plan will all backfire, but at least they are trying, and let us give them credit for that. What is out there right now isn't working, and let us see how the international tournaments will work. If we have to complain, there are other sports organizations doing much worse jobs than AITA .. Take football for instance.. did anybody notice that they fired a foreign coach for the junior team after barely a few months, after not even bringing him under contract .. something that some of us soccer fans felt was for sure coming when that Uzbek coach was speaking his mind frankly about what a poor job India had done so far in junior leagues etc .. where the heck is the Indian press which is eating up the tons of world cup soccer news, when it comes to objective criticism of the soocer development in India ? .. well this is a tennis forum, so let me not go on a tengent here (by the way, one of the fanclub members here, Arunava Chaudhuri has started an excellent Indian Football site .. check it out) .. the point remains that, we need to stop complaining about everything that AITA does .. I have made my share of criticisms here, but I will certainly wish them best on the current plans .. At least they have a "plan", whetever the reasons for them making one .. India has none in most other sports.
The four Challengers worth $25,000 each and the Futures circuit tournaments in Mumbai and Islamabad, each costing $15,000, also fall in the category that helps the foreigners since not many Indians can stand up to the challenge without the back-up preparation .. The AITA must throw open the Challengers and Satellites to private parties and it should worry about domestic tennis, which will cost it a fraction of what it or its units are going to spend on international circuit events. Look at the women's ITF circuit and a possible WTA Tour event. How are these going to benefit the Indian girls?.
I think there is a good point here about private parties running the challenger/futures, provided we make sure of Indian players getting wildcards, etc .. As for the need for WTA and ITF tour events, my comments above hold .. Take Uzma Khan for instance. 17 year old, and almost exactly the same age as Rewa Hudson of New Zealand, whom Uzma beat in straight sets in New Zealand in the 97 April Fed Cup. Rewa is among the top-5 junior players right now (a top seed at Wimbledon). She has played in several foreign tournaments and has garnered ITF junior points while Uzma this year basically played only in the couple of ITF junior tournaments in India, one in Dhakka, one in SriLanka and one or two in Thailand or somewhere. She couldn't find money to go to French Open where she would have qualified. Indians do not normally have money to travel abroad and that *is* the point. What India does have are some pretty good tennis facilities in 5-6 cities and the ability to conduct some of these events during some excellent weather during our season when not too many places around the world is warm enough for outdoor tennis (Sep thru Feb) .. The foreigners find India relatively cheap for stay and expenses .. So let us have the tournaments and get them to come to India.
Again, for whose benefit is the Asia Cup being held at a cost of close to a crore of rupees?
Now, that is a good question ! .. yeah, what the heck is the Asia Cup achieving ? .. who cares about Asia Cup ?
Anyway, despite my disagreements with some of the points in the article, I liked it very much. We need the press to do more of analysis like this in every sport. Let us go after the soccer, hockey and basketball governing bodies (forget cricket .. I am a cricket fan but nobody outside of the few countries cares one bit about that game) .. For now, let us give AITA some breathing room .. wait and see how well they execute the plans and if it works (Hope I am not being too naive here and this whole "Spanish Model" is not smoke and mirrors from AITA, though)..
I should say that I am certainly not knowledgable enough to sound as authoritative as I probably do above in my comments .. I will wait and see how the senior commentators and tennis experts in India feel about all this. We will hear more in the future, I hope. Sorry for the length of the above piece, but I think this is an important enough topic, of great relevance to development of tennis in India.
June 26 Note-3
The big news today is the updated Indian Domestic Schedule from AITA (See May 15 Note-2, in the weekly notes, May 18 for the earlier schedule released 6 weeks back, as well as the May 16 Note-2 for the news on Indian women's players complaining to AITA on the lack of tournaments for them). The news schedule is at the Indian schedule page .. Some of the mistakes in the original schedule that I had commented on, have been corrected. I had said that I would only believe it when I see the women's ITF tournaments on the ITF calendar. I checked up and, yes, the 4 $5K ITF women's futures do appear on the calendar (October 12th through November 8th), coinciding with the 4-leg men's satellite over the same 4 weeks. The earlier release did not mention the 4th leg at Kannur, Kerala, but I had added that in the may-15 schedule after hearing from ITF, and the new AITA release adds that in, along with the venues for the women's futures (Ahemedabad, Mumbai, Indore and Delhi in that order). It is a very busy schedule all the way from October to February with 2 satellite circuits, 4 challengers (2 new ones in Jan-Feb 99 have been listed) and one futures on the men's side and 4 futures and one big-challenger on the women's side .. There will be a $75K WTA challenger at Delhi starting on Nov 30th !!! .. That's great, and it is the first time a women's international of that magnitude is held in India, I believe. Other things to note are the big absence of grass events. There is no grasscourt nationals anymore ! .. The Hindu reports AITA to be saying that there are no takers for organizing that event. Hard to believe that India, one of the last bastions of grass courts, is also giving up on the grand old surface that tennis was meant to be played on (Marcelo Rios and the "grass is for cows" comments notwithstanding!) .. As it stands, there may only be one leg of the January 99 satellites (at Chandigarh) which may be on grass. Heck, even Calcutta, the place known for the grasscourts, is holding the Junior ITF international in december on clay ! .. The Aug 10 junior nationals at Chennai is also on clay .. We had heard about the "Spanish Model" that AITA now favors, in terms of large number of international tournaments etc, but India suddenly moving to clay ?? .. It just doesn't feel good, though more clay experience is certainly needed for our kids to do well internationally. All in all, AITA should be congratulated on setting up such a packed schedule, and so far the indications are that the events are slowly showing up on the international calendars. Not sure if the Indian women players concerns of more tournaments have been addressed yet (I assume the Jan-Fen 99 schedule for women is still under preparation, and some events will be added in there..).
May 1 Note-2
Well, now that AITA is not telling us about the Indian domestic calendar, here is what the ITF offices in London say.. they confirm that there is indeed a men's ATP/ITF satellite circuit in India in October. This was reported in the Indian newspapers 2 days back, and I had wondered why only three cities were listed. That is incorrect and these circuits are required to be over 4 weeks. To my surprise, the 4th city, after Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore turns out to be Kannoor (Kerala) !! Always good to hear of some tennis in my home state. Kerela has produced so many great athletes in volleyball, soccer, track, swimming etc, but hasn't done a thing in tennis; except for Mahesh Bhupathi's mother being from Kerala, there is nothing to talk about (while the other sports strongholds like Maharashtra, Karnataka, AP, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Bengal have done their bit) ! .. Hope some kids will get to watch some good pro action .. Anyway, the satellite circuit starts on October 12th at Mumbai.
ITF says there was supposed to be a one week men's Futures event in November in India (which I assume was expected to be in sequence with the one Futures event in Pakistan and 2 in Bangladesh at that time), but that has just been cancelled. They said there is a chance for some to show up later in the calendar though. India needs to do a much better job of organizing these events. Italy has, for instance, 19 men's Futures events in the calendar this year, Greece has 11, Yugoslavia has 9 and even an Indonesia has something like 7, and India has had three (not to mention the women's side where we have had two futures and nothing else) .. This is the time to make some impact in Indian tennis, with a showpiece word-class team like LP-MB making all the news and Nirupama adding her bit of exploits to it. Time to market the Srinaths, Fazaluddins and Uzma Khans and organize some Futures events (and we know that Marcus Hilpert is always available .. :-)) .. The problem is that sponsorship for these kinds of events won't happen unless somebody tries .. There was a report in the Indian Express about Oleg Ogorodov's coach, who was at Vadodara, talking about what a great opportunity it is for India to sell tennis, with what LP-MB have been doing .. AITA and everybody else are in danger of missing the boat here .. Is anybody listening out there ??? ..
Apr 8 Note-1
No news on today's matches yet from Madras. That tournament website is still a mess. It has been 2-3 days and they still cannot put some scores up in a timely fashion. Why promise score updates and then not a have anything ? .. The scoreboard page shows two lines with player 1 and player 2 and space for scores in FIVE sets, with of course, no numbers .. Jeez, people .. how shoddy can you get ? .. Last night for a short period, there were some results in one page, but it showed players like Burgsmuller beating himself ! .. The web Gurus know too much HTML and can never make it work. Type the damn scores in ASCII and just put the bloody thing up. Some of us are sick of making phone calls to Madras to get scores (and the tournament office promises faxes of results and none arrives .. even the good scores sites like ESPN and Yahoo which show updates from everywhere with reasonable delay have so far not been showing the Chennai results till very late in the day .. and someone not informing the world is probably the reason) .. Thanks for fanclub members who help with some of this .. Now that I am on a tirade against the tournament website too, where the hell are the names Bhupathi and Paes on the players list page ? .. what does it take for the Indian company running that website to show some pride in India's own players ? .. These may sound like nit-picking, but they reveal some deep-rooted attitudinal problems when so many such things happen .. Oh Lord, how shameful ! (.. and I do feel bad for attacking an Indian tournament so much, but do they give us a choice ?..)
OK, here is another press report, from The Telegraph, Calcutta : " .. Leander cruised through 6-2, 6-2 and will next meet the winner of the Jerome Golmard-Wesley Whitehouse clash. In the process, the Indian No. 1 not only entered the second round of the tournament for the first time but also scored a point for his fellow-countryman, Prahlad Srinath and Syed Fazaluddin .. Both these young Davis Cuppers, who did duty in Genoa, could not have come here in time for the qualifying rounds and had asked for wild cards. Mahesh Bhupathi was granted one of the three on offer, but his team-mates were denied wild cards on the logic that they were not good enough to deserve such generosity .. Instead, IMG — which owns the event in India — obliged Phau simply because he was from Boris Becker’s academy. It was left to Leander to ‘reveal’ how ridiculous that decision had been. " .. Thanks, The Telegraph ! .. Go for it .. Take them to task.
Apr 7 Note-3
The Indian newspapers are hyping up Boris Becker like nobody's business. I wonder if the Indian fans and the newspaper reporters who throng Becker know what happened between Leander and Becker at Stuttgart last October and what exactly were the words Becker used that was reported in the Indian magazines then (.. let me just say that I was a long-time Becker fan who lost all respect for him then .. Let me not get into the sordid details). Anyway, here is a piece from today's Indian Express by Anand Philar: Now that he (Becker) is in Chennai, just about everyone is hoping that he would make it to the final, and yes, even win the trophy. At least then, one can rejoice that one partook in a historic event of witnessing a typical Becker triumph in where else, but the "home" of Indian tennis ... Can anything be more satisfying and fitting? If only wishes could come true. .. Ah.. Give me a break ! .. How about our own Leander winning the whole thing which would probably involve a win over Becker too .. That won't be "satisfying" ?? .. What in the world is going on out in Chennai ?? .. What is with all this hype from every corner ? .. By the way, not everyone will agree with the hype that Chennai is the undisputed home of Indian tennis either .. Take a look at how many Davis Cuppers have come from Calcutta .. That city also has some serious claims.
Apr 6 Note-3
Here are some excerpts from S.K.John's article in today's Indian Express:
And, if a player like Srinath has to match Gaudenzi, he's got to play at least at the Tour level. For that he has to have enough points. To gain points he has to travel. If he has to travel, he has to have money. Now, where will that come from? If a player like Paes has been struggling for eight years before he could make a mark on the Tour, the likes of Srinath have to put in much more effort.Where is the support to put in that effort? A case in point is the Gold Flake Open which began in Chennai today. Bhupathi is the only Indian to get in with a wild card. In other countries, wild cards are first given to players of the host nation. Here, both Srinath and Fazaluddin lost out because the organisers didn't want unsung Indians on the main draw. .. Apparently, one wild card has gone to a South African with a lot of promise! This means that the two Davis Cuppers lost out on playing the qualifying and the wild cards, thus depriving them of an opportunity to play the Tour event. The two matches here would have given Srinath tremendous confidence, but where does he go from here? May be, to his hometown Mysore to go through the motion of hitting tennis balls .. Sure, his morale went for a toss after he was informed here that he was not among the wild cards at Chennai. But he is hoping that he will get a wild card at least at the Vadodara Challenger! After that, he intends to play in the European clay court circuit and the American hard court. ``I should not give up so fast,'' he says.
Makes me want to cry to read that about Prahlad's morale going for a toss after the rejection he got from the only ATP tournament in his own country, right when he was getting ready for sweating it out in the Davis Cup for India .. Right after he moved his ranking up from 1000 to 530 in about 5 months .. And now the Indian #3 is not even sure that he will get a wildcard into the Vadodara challenger .. That is how far we have sunk .. I repeat, somebody needs to get to the bottom of how Prahlad was denied a wildcard to the Chennai tournament. The more I feel I should not continue to talk about this, the more I feel somebody has to. I have been getting emails from people similarly shocked and upset at what has been done to one of India's own. Can someone take a few banners in there to the Nungambakkam stadium saying "Why no Prahlad ? .. Tournaments in India are not for match practice for unknown foreign kids!" .. The Indians who stood and watched this happening, or were part of the wildcard decisions, should be ashamed of themselves ! .. Pitiful .. One would think a nation that has been exploited for centuries by foreigners would learn. But not really, I guess.
Take a look at the tournament website: http://www.goldflakeopen.com .. The players page still does not list Bhupathi or Paes .. Now, this website is made by an Indian firm, mind you .. And there are numerous supposedly funny comments on that site about Indian railways' punctuality, etc. Show me websites in other places around the world where they talk bad about the place, even jokingly .. Some of these attitudes run way too deep.. Again, I better stop. This is a tennis site, after all.
Apr 5 Note-1
Got a couple of emails asking if I hadn't heard of the other two wildcards given out at Chennai .. Yes, I had heard it soon after I posted my pre-emeptive tirade yesterday .. Was way too upset that I couldn't eat that delicious crow yesterday.
The "foreigners" gave it to a South African 19-year old (near #500 in the world), Wesley Whitehouse, and a German kid, Bjorn Phau (near #700 in ATP) .. The former is a talented upcoming youngster, and the latter is a member of the Mercedes developmental squad in Germany that Becker is in charge of .. Nice gesture to help kids, under normal circumstances, but I don't see this happening at other tournaments around the world. The organizers are simply blatant in their disregard for Indians needing an opportunity to play too .. Like there are some tournaments around the world where they allow Indian kids to get big-match practice.
So Becker gets to bring his German developmental squad player for practice in an ATP tourney .. Yeah .. Anybody can come to India and use the tournament there for these things .. How about Vijay Kannan or even Manoj Mahadevan, if developing young talent was the purpose ? .. And I suppose there are no Indians with any say in getting a wildcard for Prahlad Srinath playing for India and not even getting to play qualifiers (either that, or they are too callous or spineless, to do anything about it) ... It's a crime. It's a shame. It's a pity ..
Why do we bother with this damn tournament in India ? .. How can we protest ? .. I am personally ashamed that this kind of crap goes on in my home country .. More later.
Those who follow my notes here know that I rarely get vitriolic here .. But this one drives me mad ..
Can I ask the Indian Press (I know some of you read this page occasionally) to do something to bring out what's going on there ? .. The press has a responsibility to talk about this, rather than eat up the publicity releases they give out of the Gold-"flaky" tournament office. The Dubai Press was pretty outspoken about how Bernd Karbacher was given a wildcard there, instead of fan favorite, Leander Paes, thanks to what they reported as possible meddling by Mercedes, a big ATP sponsor and the German connection there. What has the Indian Press got on the Chennai situation ? (I do not want to slander anybody, and imply that there are indeed things going on, but perhaps the press can say something, if they know).
Apr 4 Notes
The Chennai tournament folks (IMG, Melbourne, Australia is the prime organizer; Brian Cooney, the tournament director is from there .. There are some Indians involved too :-)) announced recently that Becker, Rafter, Woodies, and Tillstrom will be allowed to play their first round matches on Wednesday (because they are all arriving tired and jetlagged from Davis Cup matches) .. Only 7 day tournaments are allowed to schedule first round matches as late as Wednesday .. As I had expected, I did not see a report that Mahesh would be allowed to take a day of rest after he gets there on Monday .. He probably would have played more tennis at the Davis Cup over this weekend than the others, but the "Bad-Karma Gang" probably will not notice that this Indian warrior is also tired and jetlagged, and will probably make him play Tuesday.
Yeah, I am whining a lot about this tournament, the only one in India .. I know .. But then I have some very strong feelings about Indians not standing up and demanding how things should be done in THEIR OWN place. If the tournament can raise over $1.0 Million for appearance fee alone, I do not see why Indians cannot organize this themselves (yes, it is not easy to buy a tournament with much more of cash and bring it over to any country, I know) .. As a matter of record: The ATP site lists tournament offices for over 80 ATP tournaments, and only four have offices outside the country where it is held. These are, Singapore (Office in Hong Kong), Tashkent (out of Israel), Dubai and Chennai (offices out in Australia). Is it a coincidence that I have complained here about wildcard issues at the 3 places among these where Indians have played over the year (Singapore, Dubai and Chennai) ? .. I think not. I don't want to sound as though I make so much of a big issue out of wildcards (LP or MB for instance wouldn't consider it a big deal) .. It is on grounds of some priciples that I object .. If every other tournament gives out wildcards based on merit and ATP rank and not nationality and crowd interest, then I will not complain, but that's not the case .. and so it bugs me that we have to beg for a wildcard for an Indian at Chennai. That's that .. I will stop harping on this ad nauseum, now .. and my offer to eat crow remains, if Prahlad is given one of the two remaining WCs at Chennai.
Apr 3 Notes
I got a note from Madras that someone has withdrawn and Leander is in as the last entry at the Goldflake Chennai Open ! .. That means he freed up one wildcard for the tournament organizers. I am not however expecting those tournament folks, who have so far shown hardly much regard for Indians, to give the free WC to Prahlad, however .. It will be a pity if they don't, and it will be to some extent a crime to do that in a tournament in India .. The guy can't even play the qualifiers over this weekend .. But these kinds of things happen in India (and probably only in India), as the ones who care least for Indians are often the Indians who are in positions of helping Indians .. Again, if they come through with a wildcard for Prahlad, I will be more than glad to eat my foot that I have planted firmly in my mouth (or crow, or whatever they want me to eat) .. Right now I am expecting the wildcards to go to some Australians.. At least Pat Cash retired a couple of weeks back; so we don't have to see him again in Chennai .. Wonder what guys like Stoltenberg and Fromberg are up to next week .. well, at least they are top-50 players .. I will go through the roof if I see a wildcard going to Draper, Tebbut or Tramacchi (nothing against those guys, but something about that happening in an INDIAN tournament, at the expense of an Indian Davis Cup player).
Mar 31 Note-1
This is interesting .. Vijay Kannan, who is the alternate member of the Indian Davis Cup squad, is at Pattaya City, Thailand, playing the ITF Junior (grade-3) Tournament there. We had just heard a couple of days back that AITA was making plans to fly him out to Genoa, now that Leander has withdrawn .. So, who goofed here ??.. Somebody had to take care of telling the alternate stand-by to stand by ! .. Vijay is the #1 seed in the singles there, but rather surprisingly lost the first round match today, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 to Willem Meyer of South Africa. Not sure if he is playing doubles there; otherwise there is probably still time to send the 18-yr old up to Italy, but it may be futile now, as he will get no practice time on the slow red clay there..
Jan 24 Note-2
Some interesting news items about AITA. From The Hindu : At the end of a press briefing to announce the Indian Davis Cup team, AITA president Mr. R. K. Khanna was asked what the national body would do to support Nirupama's professional career in the future. His immediate reply was, "Do you know who was responsible for getting Nirupama a wild card into the Australian Open?... she was able to get a wild card only because of my personal equation with the president of Tennis Australia, Mr. Geoff Pollard.'' .... Now, this is interesting. I don't want to question anybody's integrity, and Mr. Khanna must have indeed talked to Mr. Pollard, but the fact is that Nirupama was the one they had to give the wildcard to, as the highest ranked top-200 player from an Asian country without a direct entry in the main draw (which I understand is the MOU stipulation between the Asian Tennis Federation and Tennis Australia, .. unless they have escape clauses in there). If Korea's Park had a ranking a few spots lower, she wouldn't have made it into the main draw and would have received the wildcard. In any case, if Mr. Khanna also took personal interest in it, that is of course creditable. Reports I am receiving from Delhi are that AITA has warmed up considerably to supporting Nirupama, and have recently decided to organize two press conferences showcasing her in Bombay and Delhi, next month. Good deal !
Jan 19 Note-2
Nirupama Vaidyanathan's win in the first round at the AO is the first time that any Indian woman has won a round at a Grand Slam event. It's about time Indians recognized what Nirupama is all about. Heard yesterday that the total endorsement income she has, despite becoming the first Indian woman to crack into the world top-150 in ages, is a grand total of ZERO even now. What she needs desperately is a travelling coach. David O'Meara in Florida (also coached Leander earlier; was at the Brittania-Amritraj Tennis center, if I am not mistaken) is who she likes to have around as coach, but travel costs money and she has financial problems in buying her own ticket to tournaments (she only made about $15-20K last year, and that's not enough for even buying racquets). Time for somebody to wake up and find the marketability in this woman. She has only turned 21 in december, and has several good years and unlimited potential ahead of her. Once again, if anybody who is reading this has any ideas on sponsorship/support, drop me (R. Jayakrishnan) a line (email).. A few of us are trying to help (she does not even have an agent representing her, as of now).
Jan 14 Note-2
Great news from Australia ! .. Leander Paes and Nirupama Vaidyanathan have both received wildcard entries into the singles main draw. Leander's WC was well-expected, but Nirupama's entry is just plain terrific news. We should have noticed that she is the highest ranked Asian player (at about WTA #190) from a country not represented already in the direct entry (Japan, Indonesia and Thailand and Korea have players already in the direct entry list). This is exactly what the Asian wildcard, as agreed upon by the A-Open and the Asian Tennis federation, is supposed to do - that is, to encourage a player who is deserving and is in dire need of support. This fan club had just started (as of this week, in fact) discussing what can be done to provide some support to Nirupama. We are only a bunch of fans who would like to see Indian tennis players do well, and there is only so much we can do (which is probably not much!). The sponsors in India and outside need to take a look at the talent and potential that Nirupama has... and I am personally still sad about AITA not coming up with some funds to support Nirupama's request last year .. reportedly, her family has sold most of their land to come up with funds for her tennis career and are at a dead-end at this point.. It's absolutely incredible that a country of 930 million people cannot find a way to support the only woman tennis player to crack into the world top-150 in anybody's recent memory. Well, at least the Australians are helping ! .. Anyway, I will stop now on that, but you bet I will keep bringing this issue back, here. (If anyone who is reading this has an idea or two on sponsorship/support for Nirupama, please write to me (email).. and I also should mention our fan club member, S.Kannan of Hindustan Times who has been trying to do what he can on this matter, and has directed the fanclub's attention towards this. Kamesh Srinivasan of The Hindu is another who had talked earlier to me about this).