Bengal has provided some of the finest talent to Indian tennis over the past many decades. Starting from the Asian champion, the late Dilip Bose, to Leander Paes, Bengal’s contribution to Indian tennis has been unparalleled.
There were other stalwarts like the late Sumant Misra, Naresh Kumar, Jaidip Mukerjea, Premjit Lal, Akhtar Ali, Chiradeep Mukerjea, Gaurav Misra, Enrico Piperno, Zeeshan Ali and Syed Fazaluddin who embellished the rich history of Bengal with their glorious performances.
Bengal tennis did suffer some reverses after the blooming of Leander. As he moved out to the international circuit, there was indeed a vacuum as some of his juniors were unable to fit into the boots of great sons of Bengal tennis.
Traditionally, all the local tennis playing clubs, especially Calcutta South Club, showed tremendous initiative in tennis activities and development of the game. From Bose to Leander, everyone had the patronage and privilege of South Club which had some of the finest grass-courts in the country.
The club provided the right ambience, support and made the players feel wanted. The knowledgeable club members were a constant source of encouragement.
The Bengal Lawn Tennis Association, which later became Bengal Tennis Association (BTA), was housed inside the South Club. Later, it moved out to Salt Lake where it developed its own property.
To identify and maintain the flow of champion material, the BTA launched its maiden academy programme for players from Bengal. Under this scheme, 12 boys and girls from clubs and centres from all over Kolkata and neighbouring districts were identified by a reputed panel consisting of Jaidip Mukerjea, former Davis Cupper, captain and Asian Champion, Akhtar Ali, former Davis Cupper and National coach, Chuni Goswami, football Olympian and one of the BTA vice-presidents, A.C. Khan, technical director and Gary O’Brien, development officer, ITF tutor and a member of the Indian Coaches’ Commission.
The BTA then adopted these young players and provided them a support system that covered all costs. The players were also ensured participation in tournaments all over the country.
Within a year of launching the programme — the Future Kids Scheme (FKS) — two of its trainees achieved commendable success. Vikash Singh won the under-12 National titles in singles and doubles and Nitin Kumar Sinha won the under-14 National crowns in singles and doubles.
Two National champions in the same year not only proved to be an achievement for the BTA but offered a real boost to the scheme. A five-member team, comprising consultant Akhtar Ali, director Gary O’Brien, coaches Ronny Sarkar, Saurav Panja and trainer Sabyasachi Guha, was given charge of monitoring and running the programme. Naresh Kumar and Jaidip Mukerjea play an advisory role giving valuable inputs on development and progress of the project.
The BTA also managed to rope in two large corporate houses, MSTC and NBCC to support the scheme to complete the cycle.
It was indeed an effective move in the right direction though the same could have been envisaged much earlier. If carried forward with sustained enthusiasm and strict guidelines, the scheme is bound to bring back the glorious days of yore.