Why there’s a dearth of Indian tennis players in the singles category

September 11, 2020

As an Indian, even if you don’t fancy tennis in any way, names like Leander Paes, Sania Mirza, Mahesh Bhupati, and Rohan Bopanna might still be familiar to you, for one reason or the other. Regarded as some of the best Indian tennis players of all time, these athletes have made quite a name for themselves at the world stage. However, the majority of their success has come in the doubles category. So why is it that we don’t have a flagship singles player? Is there a severe lack of talent, or is the truth actually not much farther than what you might already be thinking – lack of support.
As much as an athlete needs to maintain strong physical and mental health to make a sustainable, successful career in any sport, it’s even more prominent when it comes to tennis’s singles category. As a solo game, tennis requires a very high and rigorous amount of stamina and strength to work a half-court by oneself. This requires a level of conditioning that is inculcated from a very young age into the prospective tennis players. Even if you have the potential to make it in the singles game, the physical aspect of it does demand effort from a very early age to be able to achieve the physical goals to play regularly singles at the top level. There are a lot of contributing factors to this, but none more so than a general lack of consideration towards sports in India.
Regardless to say, sports is not considered as healthy a career prospect as other mainstream professions in the country. Even in cricket, a sport worshipped on religious proportions in the country, you’d have to be insanely talented and still have to make sacrifices that won’t always seemingly warrant a stable income down the line. For every athlete we see on our screens, there are thousands who begin the journey but don’t make it. It’s not exceptional to find a child being reprimanded in school for “focusing on sports over academics” – you either find a way to make both of them work, or you’re strongly suggested to give up the former. The lackadaisical attitude towards sport might be gradually changing over the last years, but India is still far behind than other countries.
Then comes the issue of infrastructure. Every country with a strong sports pedigree has fundamentals in place that facilitate a path for their prospective citizens to excel as athletes, should they contrive to put their heart and soul into it. Even if you have the potential to excel in a sport, a sheer lack of funding and infrastructure means that it’s hardly ever translated into success. Of course, there are exceptional cases of someone making it big, but a country’s panache for a sport does not lie in how it churns out one good athlete every few years – it lies in the ethos and a desire to advocate a better ecosystem for their prodigal athletes to hone their game.
The fundamental lack of infrastructure and subsequent training sees many aspiring tennis players switch to doubles very early in their career. The finance for a singles athlete doesn’t look good if they’re not a top 50 regular, which becomes a major factor to switch to something they’re more likely to excel in.
India has enjoyed a relatively more glistering success in the doubles category. The likes of Mahesh Bhupati, Leander Paes, Rohan Bopanna, and Sania Mirza have constantly featured in the top echelons of the world rankings and gathering laurels throughout their illustrious careers. Paes is also revered for a very rare singles bronze medal he won for India in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He joins the likes of Ramesh Krishnan, Vijay Amritraj, and Ramanathan Krishnan in a nuclear Indian tennis hall of fame of singles players.
While India’s attitude towards improving the sports infrastructure of sports other than cricket has grown healthily over the past few years, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Hopefully, we wouldn’t have to wait too long before an Indian breaks the proverbial ceiling and gate-crashes into the upper echelon of the singles tennis scene.

Written By
Anshuman Joshi

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