Legendary Leander: He creates history in Davis Cup – but Indian tennis looks woefully short of budding talent
With a 43rd win barely two months short of his 45th birthday, Indian tennis ace Leander Paes became the most successful doubles player in Davis Cup history on Saturday. The 1996 Olympic bronze medallist teamed up with Rohan Bopanna to defeat the Chinese pair of Mao-Xin Gong and Ze Zhang, in a do or die game to advance India into the world group playoffs. This achievement is a tribute to Leander’s grit and fitness – considering he made his Davis Cup debut in 1990.
Though Davis Cup may have lost its sheen to Grand Slam tournaments and some major ATP tournaments over the past decade, all top-ranked players have turned up for national duty in the tournament. It is in this context that Leander’s enduring spirit is even more inspiring. He raises the bar whenever he dons the Indian jersey. But Indian tennis has been struggling to throw up more players like him, and Mahesh Bhupathi. Apart from them, Sania Mirza and Bopanna have been the only two Indian players to have won doubles Grand Slam titles.
India’s bigger worry is not being able to produce quality singles players despite many promising starts at the junior level. Currently, Indian hopes rest on a handful of young players like former junior world number one Yuki Bhambri, Ramkumar Ramanathan and 2015 junior Wimbledon doubles winner Sumit Nagal. The All India Tennis Association needs to look beyond merely organising tournaments in urban centres and focus on increasing the catchment area. But talent spotting is only a job half done. AITA needs to either provide sustained financial support to their top 10 players or invest in hiring the services of some world-class coaches to nurture this talent for a brighter future.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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