Chinmay and Mallik with students at the academy | Shiba Sahu
In a state where mediocre tennis coaching, poor infrastructure and multiple sports associations sledge-hammering their way has resulted in a poor showing at the national level, private facilities such as the Gurukul Tennis Academy (GTA) hold out hope for those genuinely interested in the sport.
Set up by two “rebels” Chinmay Pradhan, 22 (no 1 player in the Odisha men’s circuit), and leading coach Santosh Kumar Mallik, 32 , in 2008, GTA is now giving players from economically weak families a chance. GTA spent the past one year scouting raw talent and grooming 10 youngsters from economically weaker families of Mendhasal village, providing them free coaching and equipment. Six among these adopted trainees made their debut in the Nalco Open, the biggest domestic tournament of the state, in December 2013 and one player even made it to the quarterfinals.
Chinmay and Mallik may be heroes for the tennis fraternity of Odisha, but they aren’t exactly the favourites of the state’s sports administration. The red tapism and stranglehold of state tennis bodies was a cause of frustration for Chinmay who longed to reach ATP circuit. Mallik too wished to groom raw talents into players of international standard. The duo needed access to courts for longer hours at the state government-owned Kalinga Stadium tennis complex in Bhubaneswar.
When Mallik was banned from entering Kalinga Stadium for not obliging a bureaucrat and Chinmay grew tired of returning home unable to access the court for practice, they decided to be the change that was needed. Thus Gurukul Tennis Academy was set up.
Mallik’s brainchild, GTA, initially trained around 30 youngsters, hiring courts at different places in the city. Mallik decided to set up GTA’s own infrastructure at Mendhasal, 30 km from the capital. He took 1.25 acre land on lease from his ward Chinmay’s parents, Dr Pratap Kumar Pradhan and Dr Jyotsnamayee Nayak.
Mallik invested all his savings (`8 lakh) in constructing three clay courts at the academy. But the odds were stacked against him. Distance created an obstacle as most of his wards could not travel 60 km daily and started withdrawing. However, the Pradhans came to his rescue again.
They invested `80 lakh in GTA, converting the surface of the courts from clay to synthetic, installed floodlights, built a 32-bed dormitory, added a 200-metre jogging track, cafeteria and gym to the academy. Support staff, including fitness trainer Dilip Rout, assistant coach Sunil Palei and marker Pradip Nayak were engaged to help train the players.
Today GTA is one of the very few private academies in the state that offers good infrastructure and training. GTA staged as many as six All India Tennis Association (AITA) men’s and junior tournaments within two years of its inception. Well-known players, like former junior Davis Cup winner J Mohit Mayur (Tamil Nadu), Suraj R Prabodh, S D Prajwal Dev (Karnataka), Abhinansu Borthakur (Assam), Neeraj Choudhary (MP), Suraj Konwar (Gujarat) won titles or reached finals at GTA.
“The paddy fields, the mango orchards, the coconut trees around the academy truly make it a gurukul. Good training facilities are available at reasonable cost,’’ says Prabodh, who stayed at the academy for a week and won a tournament.
GTA helped Chinmay become the first tennis player of the state to win an AITA men’s singles title last year. “The title boosted my confidence and encouraged me to improve my national ranking,” says Chinmay, a 22-year-old mass communication student, who ranked 44th in the latest AITA list.
Both Chinmay and Mallik have made GTA their new home. Chinmay, fond of tantrums and fast food, has now mellowed into a cool-headed professional who meditates and eats healthy.
Mallik too lives near the academy. “I am deriving the essence of sports from nature, from the earth, the vegetable plants and trying to apply what I have learnt to create a new method of coaching that is international in body but Indian in mind,’’ he says.
Despite doing so much to promote tennis in Odisha, GTA is still struggling to make ends meet. The Pradhans are spending `70,000-80,000 every month to meet the running costs. “We are trying to convince educational institutions in the area to avail our facility, which would help students perform better by mixing tennis with academics,’’ says Mallik.