“The goal is to promote tennis at large” – Mr. Anil Dhupar, Hon. Secretary General of All India Tennis Association (AITA)

Mr. Anil Dhupar, Hon. Secretary of Madhya Pradesh Tennis Association (MPTA) was appointed as Secretary General of All India Tennis Association (AITA) in September 2020. Last month at the ITF M15 Indore Futures tournament, he talked about his passion for tennis, long-time involvement with the sport, and its current state in India. He also spoke about AITA’s plans to help Indian tennis reach new heights.

Excerpts from the interview below :

Q) Could you talk a little about your background in tennis and sports? How did you get involved in the sport?

I was a state champion in Tennis for a number of years. I’m known in the state for my tennis activities. I was granted the Vikram Award in Tennis by the Madhya Pradesh Government as well.

When I moved from the players’ side to the administration side, I felt the need to have our own setup in Indore, as opportunities were very limited for players. That’s how the Indore Tennis Club came into being. It is the only club in the country that allows non-member players (age 18 and under) to come and play. We have excellent coaches as well. With that, we’re also trying our best to conduct plenty of tournaments- of state, national and international level.

Our job as administrators is to find ways to make players and the sport grow. We allow as many people as possible to come and play. We also provide financial support, in terms of rackets, shoes, gutting, etc. to players who do well but can’t fully support themselves. The end goal is a constant growth of the sport. 

Q) How long have you been in tennis administration, specifically?

For quite some time. As I told you, I was a tennis player. So, naturally, I wanted to stay involved in the sport. I started getting involved in tennis activities within the state, and with time, became the Secretary of the MP Tennis Association.

It was a struggle though. The transition of being in administration from being a player was a bit of a challenge. When I used to organize tournaments back in the day, things were much tougher. Since there were no computers, you had to spend long periods of time making the draws manually, the schedule of play, and so on. But with advancement in technology, things have become easy now. You can generate a draw and the order of play within two minutes. The rankings and seedings system have also become very transparent, unlike earlier. 

Mr. Dhupar on the right

Q) How would you evaluate the current state of Tennis in India as it stands?

I believe that it’s fantastic. From March- November 2020, there was no tennis. Players were stuck at home. A few countries had started hosting tournaments, but only a majority of the local players from those countries could take part, and thus gain points. But we were determined to restart Tennis in India. Tennis in India has the potential, but it is so competitive that if you don’t give opportunities to the players, they won’t thrive on the international circuit.

We started with two coaching camps, called the High-Performance Tennis Camp (HPTC) in New Delhi for the U18 boys and girls. Boys and girls were sitting at home for 10 months, so everyone was up for it. There was a lot of conditioning done from both mental and physical aspects. That’s the reason they did so well in the ITF Juniors events that followed in the country. We plan to have similar camps for the Fed Cup and Davis Cup teams as well. We can only give them opportunities, but the results have to come from the players.

Q) What are your long-term and short-term plans to help grow the sport in the country?

The goal is to promote tennis at large. Our aim is to have a proper circuit, not just for boys/girls/men/women, but also for veterans, wheelchairs, and so on. We aim to have maximum trophies and medals coming back home, be it from the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, or Olympics. To make that happen, we need to have a proper circuit in the country. And to conduct a proper circuit, we need money. Money will only come when the corporates & the government support us. Not just the central government, but the state government as well. No sport can progress without corporate support. We are in touch with a lot of corporates. Something will click for sure. While being careful, we’re  trying not to dampen our spirit because of Covid. We’re confident that once the situation is under control, positive things will happen! 

Q) Within 6-7 months of joining the office, the new AITA executive team has put together two High-Performance Training Camps for juniors, along with this string of ITF Futures events for both men and women. How tough was it to pull all this off?

This is nothing new. I have been in AITA since 1994. You just have to put things together and make it happen. Many states still haven’t resumed tennis. The first challenge we faced was that nobody was ready to participate – first the players, and then the states. So we had to convince them slowly. We started with 3-day tournaments first, then gradually moved on to 7-day tournaments, and now the complete circuit is live. Putting a circuit together takes 60 days of work. States such as Delhi, Haryana, Maharashtra, MP, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, etc. came together to resume the circuit. For the first time in the country’s history, we had 4 Nationals (U12, U14, U18, Men & Women) in March. That has never happened before. Haryana is the biggest contributor with ITF Juniors, ITF Men, ITF Women’s $25K events in Jhajjar. So, we’re putting efforts to make it all better.

The High Performance Tennis Camp organized by the AITA in Jan, 2021

Q) To grow as an association, does AITA look up to the more successful associations such as USTA, Tennis Australia, and Tennis Canada and study what they are doing?

To be honest, you can’t compete with them. They make millions of dollars in profit. We can’t match them. If I have 5 million dollars with me, I can make India heaven (laughs). They’re Grand Slam associations. You can’t even think of competing with them. China has asked to host a Grand Slam for so many years now, but there is unlikely to be a 5th Slam ever. Even if they do, there is no money in India. There is a huge lack of sponsors. It’s difficult. They have reduced Rs. 40 crores from the sports budget, and barely anyone has spoken about it. It’s sad!

Q) Players have often voiced concerns about the lack of tournaments in the country. While this Futures series is a good start, are there plans to host more Challenger and Tour events? 

Yes, if you give me a sponsor, I will give you tournaments right away. But nobody is coming forward. Covid is also playing a part in sponsors not coming forward. I have got two sanctioned tournaments in May, but there are no funds.

Q) Tennis is an expensive sport, and players often find it tough to support their training and tournament expenses, and hence are unable to move up the rankings. Are there any plans to support them financially?

For a player who has the game, there will be no problem with anything. If you’re talented, nobody can stop you. For every skillful player, the local government, state associations, or the AITA will support them. There are no written plans, but there will be support for sure. There are so many state/national schemes available. But the player has to show how good they are by winning tournaments and showing results. I have seen so many players being sent abroad for training by associations. How do you think Sania Mirza and Leander Paes were made? They were talented, but they were not made on their own. When they do well, you start helping them. 

Q) In an ideal world, if you could put India on the world tennis map, how would you do it?

The circuit is made in such a way that it’s very tough. We don’t have players in top-10 or top-100. It is a very competitive game with so many countries taking part. Going from Lucknow to Chennai for a tournament is like crisscrossing through 4 countries in Europe. So it’s tough for Indians. If we have the money, we can conduct more and more tournaments. Then you shall see. Something will click for sure. China, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Japan, etc. are also coming up well. They’re a tough competition for our country. It’s a combined effort. Our players also need to do well while we’re organizing tournaments to support them as much as we can. 

Vishakha Khandelwal is a Master of Journalism student at The University of British Columbia. Based in Vancouver, she has written for leading tennis publications such as Last Word On Sports, Last Word On Tennis, and SportzCosmos in the past. Vishakha has always been passionate about interesting storytelling. She is also an artist who likes to create doodles during her free time while listening to classic rock. She also enjoys the outdoors and believes that there’s nothing a hike can’t fix.

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