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ATP CHALLENGER TOUR DISPATCH: NEW DELHI
Veteran tennis writer Robert Davis will be following the ATP Challenger Tour circuit this year and will write a series of reports. This week, he is at the ATP Challenger Tour event in New Delhi, India.
Our last stop on the ATP Challenger India circuit has taken us from the tropical climate of Kolkata inland to Delhi, the capital of India. We have cool, crisp air coming down from the Himalayas, but once the sun breaks through the early morning fog the sky turns powder blue and it is perfect weather for tennis. The locals tell me that spring has come early this year and in the garden of our hotel the roses are in full bloom.
The All India Tennis Association (AITA) is organising this week’s event and what a job they are doing so far! In addition to the ATP Challenger, they are hosting an ITF Women’s event, a high school tournament and early morning adult clinics. The tournament director this week is Ms. Manpreet Kandhari and she is off to a roaring start. For she has pulled out all the stops to make this event as nice as possible. On site there is a food court, sponsors’ village and even an Army orchestra to entertain all the tennis fans. It feels a bit like the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells with all the tennis playing and off-court activities.
At the Players’ Party, players were given red turbans and we feasted on Mughal cuisine of kebabs, rice pulao, butter naan and steaming pots of veg and non-veg dishes. The guys were so impressed with all the effort of the AITA that both Ilija Bozoljac and Somdev Devvarman made impromptu speeches recognising the effort of the tournament staff and made comparisons to ATP World Tour events.
Some of the guys and umpires have taken advantage of the proximity to Agra and have gone to visit the Taj Mahal, one of the wonders of the world. On the subject of man-made wonders, let me tell you how nice a venue we have this week. The RK Khanna Tennis Center certainly ranks as one of the best in Asia. Fourteen tennis courts spread out over seven acres right in the heart of Delhi. Here we have a great gym, swimming pool, cafeteria and dormitory. And the stadium court has a capacity for 6,000 people! Court 1 holds 1,200.
This week matches will start in the afternoon and play will carry on into the night under lights. The court speed is faster than last week, but the players say the balls feel a bit heavier. If you have to play at night that can make a difference for a quick-strike player as the balls will go slower.
For some of the boys this India tour has been hard and for others a bit up and down. Each week, there have been matches won and lost by the narrowest of margins. Players save match points and find a way to win. While others lose after having had match points. Tennis is a game of inches, and even the smallest of improvements can make a big difference in the rankings. One thing that each player learns sooner or later out here is that Emirates ATP Rankings do not lie. A player is ranked where he is for a reason and he can find himself looking at the man in the mirror pretty quick.
Some of the guys go to the gym to get fitter and others think a bigger serve might be the answer. And some look for advice in books. Radu Albot is studying, The Power Of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale, while Marco Chiudinelli is reading Mindset by Carol Dweck. And Wu Di has that great Chinese classic, Art of War by Sun Tzu. This morning, I even saw Rafa’s book on top of a racquet bag in the Players’ Lounge.
No matter how nice an event like this one is, the tour can be a lonely place for a young man. Especially so when he has lost his confidence. Or worse, his funding. Take twenty-three year old Matt Reid of Sydney, Australia for example. As a junior player he showed a lot of promise and has been supported by Tennis Australia. But lately his results have not been up to par, and after losing in the first round of the qualifying of the Australia Open, Reid was told that he would no longer receive financial support from Tennis Australia.
“I completely understand why they had to do it,” Reid told me. “And they did say that if I improved they would consider supporting me again.”
So how did Matt Reid respond? By winning his very next tournament and first ATP Challenger title in Burnie.
“They (TA) were calling me after each match and encouraging me to keep doing well,” Reid said. Reid has another supporter in Lleyton Hewitt. Hewitt is mentoring Reid and was also one of the first to congratulate Reid after his win.
“We don’t have a contract or anything formal, but Marat has been helping me and advising me where to go and what to do. It helps me a lot coming from him,” Donskoy admits.
Then you have the Ratiwatana twins. In 2007/8 they won two ATP World Tour events (Bangkok, Chennai). They quickly rose to a career high Emirates ATP Ranking of 39. Then the unthinkable happened – they lost 14 straight first-round matches on the ATP World Tour. Each week brought another loss. In horror, they watched their ranking slowly slide all the way back down till they dropped out of the Top 100. That was six years ago, and though they do not get to play as many ATP Tour events now, the ATP Challenger Tour has given them the lifeline to keep playing the game they love. They have won 33 ATP Challenger titles throughout their career and currently, hold the record for the team with most ATP Challenger titles.
“We love to play tennis no matter how big or small the tournament,” says Sanchai Ratiwatana. “And we are also preparing to be coaches by watching all the singles matches. Plus, if we win enough matches we always have the opportunity to get back to the ATP World Tour.”
The ATP Challenger India Circuit has been a great success. Nearly all the comments that I have heard have been positive. The hotels and venues have been excellent and that helps a lot. And one small thing that is often overlooked is the quality of the officials. These three weeks they have been very good. One of the factors is that the AITA host so many events each year that the linesmen and umpires get plenty of practice. There is one man here, longtime veteran ATP supervisor, Nitin Kannamwar, who has done an excellent job training these officials.