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Vol. XXVII No. 2, May 1-15, 2017
The Annual Day of the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association is an occasion for camaraderie where old-timers go down memory lane and the young look forward excitedly to receiving awards. Yes, awards are distributed, meaningful speeches are made and the ambience is warm and cordial. This year, there were additional features, it being the silver jubilee year of the Sanmar Group’s sponsorship of the TNTA Tennis League for clubs. So we had, in addition to the awards presented, the addresses made by various officials and the felicitation of dignitaries, a wide ranging discussion of various aspects of tennis in the State and the reasons why the city enjoys an exalted status in the country as far as the sport is concerned.
The most touching moment during the evening was the loud cheers that greeted 89-year-old P.S. Seshadri as he stepped onto the dais to receive his memento. Seshadri, a popular and respected figure in tennis circles, had taken part in the inaugural event of the TNTA Inter-Club League, 66 years ago.
The League has been a fertile ground for bringing together the young and the old, the aspiring and the experienced. It is in this event that a youngster gets a first-hand understanding of the pressures of team competition, though tennis is often termed as an ‘individual’ game. The young get to learn the use of various tactics and the nuances of doubles play. It is often his or her first chance to play with a senior player as a partner in a genuine competition and be recognised as a player of stature.
Sanmar came on board as sponsors in 1992 when Group chairman N. Sankar was TNTA President. Speaking about how the sponsorship came about, Sankar recalled, “The League was actually pretty well run since the 1950s, so when I was TNTA President, the then Secretary, V.K. Parthasarathy, proposed to liven up the League and I was happy to do my bit. We started with small prize money but it brought in a sense of playing for something.”
According to N. Kumar, Sankar’s brother and vice chairman of the Sanmar Group, the idea of sponsoring the League was to get the clubs to be more active and professional. Indeed, the brothers have themselves played in the League even before their Group came on board as the title sponsor.
The level of competition in the League is high, according to Hiten Joshi, CEO of the TNTA, who added that another advantage of the tournament is that the association with a club gives players a proper place to train when not playing in tournaments.
The fact that the TNTA Inter-Club League has grown from 50 players to 516 from 43 teams belonging to 23 clubs spread over six zones with relegation and promotion, is evidence of its growing popularity. The League also has two Veterans’ events (45 plus and 60 plus) and a Women’s League, though women can be part of the regular League too. And what started with prize money of Rs. 40,000 now runs to a total of Rs. 3.5 lakhs.
It may surprise many to know that almost all Davis Cup players from Madras have participated in the League at some time in their careers. As juniors, the Amritraj brothers, Anand, Vijay and Ashok played for Madras Gymkhana Club, Ramesh Krishnan and his cousin Shankar Krishnan played for Mandavallipakkam Club, S. Vasudevan and Udya Kumar played for Egmore Tennis Club while Rabi Venkatesan played for MCC. Somdev represented Nungambakkam Tennis Club. Years ago Asif Ismal, Gaurav Natekar and Vishal Uppul who were in Madras at the time were also seen in action in the League. The Fed Cup players Sai Jayalakshmi and Rushmi Chakravarthy have also played for their respective Clubs.