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The ball in India’s court

In Part II of Patriot’s series on the future of Indian sport, we look at the stars in the Indian tennis circuit, whom the fans can bank upon in upcoming years

AT THE Australian Open this year we came across the likes of Dominic Thiem who seemed to break the triopoly of Nadal, Federer and Djokovic in world tennis as he reached the finals of the prestigious tournament. The noteworthy fact from the results of this tournament is that while the big three are slowly reaching the twilight of their careers, younger stars like Thiem and Alexander Zverev have emerged to one day take their place.

So, what happens when the tennis action shifts focus to the Indian scene? The only shining light in the circuit seems to be the veteran 47-year old Leander Paes who is still fighting a lone battle. After multiple Grand Slams, the pro has announced his retirement at the end of the 2020 season.

Sania Mirza too was on a maternity break and now seems to be fit and fine. She is now raring to go even though she hasn’t made her comeback since the 2018-19 season.

Players like Som Dev Verman, who once faced Roger Federer in an ATP tour match, too retired last year after quite a slide in his career. So, the only two active known Indian players in the circuit are Yuki Bhambri and Ramkumar Ramanathan, who don’t feature in the top 100 rankings.

Sumit Nagal, who recently faced Rafael Nadal in the US Open 2019, also came into prominence after the high  profile match, but seems to have fallen in the pecking order since. So, the current Indian circuit seems to be going on a bit of a pitfall. In a recent survey, it was revealed that after the US, India has the most tennis viewers in the world.

So, considering the huge popularity of the sport in the country, this slide in the
playing circuit seems to be worrying.

So, who are the future stars in the Indian circuit who can make it big in the international circuit? Patriot takes a look.

PRANJALA YADLAPALLI

Labelled at one time ‘the successor of Sania Mirza’, Pranjala Yadlapalli is yet to win WTA titles, but has been an active presence on the ITF circuit this year.

The 17-year-old managed a Round of 16 finish at the Australian Open Juniors this year in the singles, progressing to the quarter-finals in the girls doubles – where she lost a closely-fought match with partner Karman Kaur Thandi.

Yadlapalli had a title win in 2017 at the prestigious Orange Bowl championships in Plantation, Florida, taking the girls’ doubles title with partner Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia.

Her most recent professional outing – at the Asian B1 ITF Pune Open Junior Tennis Championships in Pune, India 2016, went quite successfully for the youngster, who finished in the finals of the girls’ singles.

She eventually lost to China’s Xiyu Wang, but Yadlapalli played a consistent game for her wins. The youngster still needs work on keeping pace and momentum during her matches, but if she moves forward on her current path of progress, could be a star in the making

ADIL KALYANPUR

India has seen a strong rising female presence in tennis, but 19-year-old Kalyanpur is one of the new stars of men’s tennis. Although he has played a handful of ATP Challenger events, the Bengaluru native has a number of ITF doubles tournaments under his belt.

He has played only one tournament so far this year, and partnered by experienced Indian player Sanam Singh, Kalyanpur finished at the semi-finals of an India F1 Futures event in Chandigarh; the pair, up against old hands Vishnu Vardhan and Sriram Balaji, were eventually defeated in straight sets. He even recently beat Marcel Ilhan, a former top 100 player in a recent ATP tournament

Since 2016, he has been one of the best players in the junior circuit. Currently ranked second on the Junior AITA rankings, Kalyanpur could be one to look out for in the future of Indian doubles

KARMAN KAUR THANDI

2015 WTA Futures Star winner Thandi began playing tennis at eight years in 2006. Now 21, Thandi is an active presence on the ITF circuit. The teenager has not had the ideal start to 2016, with a highest semi-final finish at the ITF Santa Margherita de Pula 5 in Italy. In 2016 she made the finals of an ITF event in Indore, India, putting up a close three-set fight to finish the runner-up.

Thandi, like many other Indian players, has had significantly more success at the doubles, winning two titles at Gulbarga on the ITF circuit, partnered on both occasions by Dhruti Tatachar Venugopal.

Thandi, however, is yet to win any major events on the WTA circuit. Still, she is definitely a player to look out for in the future.

PRARTHANA THOMBARE

Tennis has long been regarded as an elitist sport, with significant amounts of money required to back an athlete until she wins enough to break even. That involves not only equipment but travel costs, training and camps, which are arguably the most significant expenditure. Players are often sent abroad to for training across surfaces and under specific coaches, and these camps are often expensive.

From a village in Maharashtra, Thombare travelled 70 km a day to train; after her initial successes, the family decided to move to Solapur and then eventually to Hyderabad, where Thombare enrolled at the Sania Mirza Tennis Academy, run by Mirza’s father, tennis coach Imran Mirza.

A doubles specialist, the 22-year-old has been a regular fixture on the ITF circuit this year, partnering a series of international players. She has taken ITF doubles titles at Puebla and Montpellier, making the finals at an ITF event in Irapuato, Mexico.

VASISHT CHERUKU

India’s top-ranked Under-18 player at a time, Vasisht Cheruku participated at a Futures event in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, and partnered by Suraj R Prabodh. They exited in the semi-finals at the event but put up a spirited fight, taking the first set to a tiebreak and the match to a super tiebreak before his eventual loss.

He has shown some proficiency in the singles, too, reaching the finals of an ITF Juniors event in Kolkata in 2015. Perhaps one of the few youngsters in India who have shown skill in both singles and doubles, Cheruku is only in the fledgling stages of his professional career, and should he be able to keep up his ITF circuit consistency, can do well in the future

SIDDHANT BANTHIA

The right-handed tennis player started his journey at the age of 6. He won the LTAT ITF Junior G4 in the Grade 4 category held in Thailand. Qualified to the quarter finals of the India ITF Juniors 2. His doubles achievements include winning the LTAT ITF Junior Grade 2 held in Thailand. He was the runner up in MSLTA-ITF Junior Tennis championships 2016 in the Grade 3 category

ZEEL DESAI

Zeel the right-handed tennis player clinched the interest for tennis when she was at the age of six.  She won the 29th Sarawak Chief Minister’s Cup (I) ITF Junior Tennis Championship (Grade held at Malaysia in 2017. Bagged the LTAT ITF Junior Grade 2 title in 2016 at Thailand. In her Double’s tournaments, she won LTAT ITF Junior Grade 2 held in Thailand. She qualified to the quarter finals of Hong Kong Open Junior Tennis Championships 2016

MAHAK JAIN

The right-handed tennis player represented India in U-14 Asia-Oceania Championship in Thailand and in U-14 & U-16 in World Tennis Championships at Czech Republic & Hungary. She won the U-14 Wimbledon Masters & ITF Grade-2 title in Japan. She won the HCL Asian Junior Tennis Championships 2017 in the Grade B1 Category. In the doubles tournament she won the runners up at India ITF Juniors