Ahmedabad’s top two coaches, Mr. Shrimal Bhatt(Former Director, Shaishya Tennis Academy/STA) and Mr. Jignesh Raval(Former Tennis Director, Ahmedabad International Sports Academy/AISA), have synergised for the new Altevol-Alexander Waske Tennis University.
This is the 3rd article in our 4 part series on the Altevol-Alexander Waske Tennis University, where we take inputs and pick the brains of Mr. Bhatt and Mr. Raval, who’ve served Gujarat Tennis for many many years now. They speak about the rise of Gujarat Tennis, the people involved, and how the Altevol initiative is going to be the biggest game-changer in Gujarat Tennis.
On the recent rise of Gujarat Tennis –
SB – It was not a sudden rise. We’ve had good players coming out of the state, like Manisha Mehta, who was India No. 2. But the Gujarati culture, traditionally, comes with a mindset that puts more focus on studies, than fitness. But I think once Leander Paes won the Olympics bronze(in 1996), and then we had the meteoric rise of Sania Mirza(in the late 2000’s), the mindset of parents started changing. They realised that sports is an important part of life too. I think this gave rise to a healthy sporting culture in Gujarat, especially in Tennis.
I think myself and Jiggy(Jignesh Raval), we travelled abroad, and brought new aspects of coaching into Gujarat. Any player to have come out of Gujarat, would have spent some time at least with either of us. Right from Ankita Raina to Mann Shah, we’ve coached them at some point in time in their careers.
JR – What Sir mentioned about the culture change is correct. But I think the real change started when we started getting support. What I mean to say is, even a coach like Shrimal Sir, or myself, need the facilities to stay abreast with the rest of India and the world. In 2011, Shaishya Tennis Academy got floodlights installed, and for the first time, we could coach children after it got dark. In between 2011 and 2018, Gujarat have produced 5 Junior Grand Slam players, and in all of their journeys, me or Shrimal Sir have had a major contribution. So I think what Gujarat Tennis was 10 years ago, and what It is today, there is a vast difference. And the most exciting part is, what we think it can be in 10 years!
On the support from the Gujarat Government and its impact –
SB – It has been massive. There are two schemes that I would like to highlight – “Shaktidhoot Scheme” and “Excellency Program”. Shaktidhoot Scheme caters to players that have done well in the international level, while the “Excellency Program” is for those who have excelled at the school and Khel Mahakumbh level. These schemes provide not just financial aid, but having someone support motivates both players and parents alike. There is no dearth of talent in Gujarat, so I hope the government will keep on supporting talented players.
I would like to mention the names of Mr. Sandeep Pradhan(Director General, Sports Authority of Gujarat), Mr. Dinesh Kapadia(Secretary, Sports Authority of Gujarat), and Mr. Paresh Patel(Chief Coach, Sports Authority of Gujarat) for their immense contribution.
JR – The Sports Authority of Gujarat(SAG) has instilled belief in the parents and players, in the sense that, if a kid does well, they don’t have to worry about the finances, because they know that SAG is going to be there to support them. So far, they have been very easy to deal with, unlike what other government interactions are believed to be like. They have been crystal clear and completely transparent, so there is no disparity at all.
On the joining of AISA and STA to form Altevol and its impact on existing players –
SB – I think the joining of AISA and STA is going to be immensely beneficial because of the following three reasons – a) Better Coaching, b) Better Facilities, c) Better Players. Not only do we get the combined brilliance of the best of coaches in Gujarat, we have a stronger combined group of players coming together to train. For example – Vaidehi Chaudhari and Akanksha Bhan, who have been traditional rivals, both at the state and national level, now are part of the same academy. Similarly, Mann Shah and Madhwin Kamath, both of whom have been No. 1 at the National level, come together with this initiative. This gives rise to healthy competition, and will only push the players to get better in training.
JR – I always say that if you have one stick, it’s easy to break. But if you have two sticks combined, it becomes unbelievably tough to break. And especially, when we combine the strengths of these two academies, it becomes indomitable. If you go to any other academy in India, you will find just 2 or 3 coaches that are high quality. But here, we have 16 coaches who can impart quality coaching. Besides that, we already have 35 ITF players signed up for our advanced program, and we have just 48 slots(which is going to increase gradually). So I think the kind of camaraderie we are going to see between both players and coaches is going to unparalleled, and it’s only going to spur each other on to get better.