On Sunday, Sania Mirza, the former World No 1, won her first doubles title of the season. Partnering China’s Shuai Zhang, the six-time Major champion claimed the Ostrava Open. In a year marked by disappointment in tennis, the 34-year-old’s victory is a timely reminder that Sania still has a few years left in the game. However, her win throws up an uncomfortable question—“who after her?”
On the women’s side, Ankita Raina has had a decent season. She had her first-ever main draw appearance at a Slam and her graph is trending upwards. However, the list stops there. On the men’s side, the cupboard is bare. All the players combined have managed one main draw entry at a Major. And even that came thanks to a wild card given by the Australian Open organisers to Sumit Nagal.
It’s fair to say the likes of Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Ramkumar Ramanathan and Nagal—the three leading lights of men’s tennis going by rankings—are still searching for form and rhythm in a season that’s on its last legs. In men’s doubles, a category that has served Indians well for the last several decades, the performance has been so bad there’s not even hot air. That Rohan Bopanna, at 41, continues to lead the pack is indicative of how much talent there is. All this was laid front and centre in that disappointing show against Finland in the Davis Cup Group I tie.
Covid-19, injuries and a lack of tournaments have also hit India hard in this regard. It’s likely that the country could go without a single ATP Challenger or World Tour event, the top two men’s tiers, for the first time since the 1990s. Not an ideal scenario if you are trying to develop the game. This was also touched upon by Bopanna and team captain, Rohit Rajpal, after the Finland defeat. As it is, India’s myriad tennis fans are compelled to look to history—the Krishnans, Amritrajs, Leander Paes/ Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania—to talk up the country’s tennis culture. With no real talent coming through or emerging, that could well be the status quo going forward.