Two 17-year-olds stand on the tennis court with their eyes forward, their hips slightly bent, and their hands lightly but firmly placed on their racquets. It is twin sisters Mahika and Mayanka Rana’s first outing at the 2018 Asian Games, and it is their time to shine.
These teenagers, recent high school graduates, went on to beat the Maldives doubles players 6-4, 6-1, advancing to the women’s doubles pre-quarterfinals. While they lost the next match against a very competitive Japan, they definitely won a lot of hearts.
It speaks to the capability and dedication of young Nepali players when five of six participants in lawn tennis competing at the Asian games are either in high school or have only just graduated. “The only difference between Nepal and the rest of the teams was the level of confidence,” says 17-year old Pranav Khanal, a former junior tennis champion who also participated at the 2018 Asian games. “We were nervous just looking at them. They were obviously much more experienced. Overall, it was a great experience and it helped us become better just getting a chance to play with the ‘pros’.”
Nepal’s lawn tennis scene is seemingly being led by the youth. Young players aren’t just travelling abroad to tour and participate but are actually winning tournaments. Recently, the Nepal team bagged bronze medals at the 2014 Asian Tennis Cup U-14 and at the 2015 U-14 ITF Asian Development Championship. Similarly, Nepali players also secured gold and silver medals at the 2015 Chang Thai National Tennis Championship and the Toyota Road to the Olympics 2016, respectively. The success of young Nepalis at the international level has motivated the All Nepal Lawn Tennis Association (ANLTA), Nepal’s tennis governing body, to host a multitude of junior national tournaments all year round. The tournaments feature seven age-category events—U-8, U-9, U-10, U-12, U-14, U-16 and U-18—each in the boys and girls sections and doubles in the open section. Around 150 players are expected to take part in each of these tournaments annually. ANLTA has also been given the green light to host two ITF Juniors level U-18 international tournaments in Kathmandu.
The benefits for young people to play tennis are numerous: from learning self-discipline and team work to acquiring mental toughness. “While it’s vital that players take a lot of interest when playing, it is also necessary for us parents to keep motivating them regardless of the results,” says Nira Kayastha, whose 10-year old daughter Sunira Kayastha recently participated in the Korea Invitational International Tournament in August 2018. “We parents do whatever we can to support our children, from taking them to games to travelling with them internationally.”
ANLTA was established early on in Nepal’s democratic history, in 1956, six years after the country became democratic but it was only in February 2017, that Nepal hosted its first International Tennis Federation (ITF) under-18 tournament, attracting players from China to Poland to compete in Nepali soil. In this tournament, most Nepali players—except for Mayanka Rana, Mahika Rana and Prerana Koirala from the girls’ singles and Samrakshyak Bajracharya and Renjen Lama—didn’t make it to the second round, but they gained insight, experience and an opportunity to play for their country.
“It’s heartening to see an increase in players taking interest in the sport,” says Ganga Sharma, part of the Kathmandu District Lawn Tennis Association at Dashrath Rangashala and one of Nepal’s few female coaches.
Sharma, who hails from Parsyang in Pokhara, started her own career as a student, inspired by her brother Shakti Sharma, who is currently an international tennis coach and was once seeded first in the junior category. She came to Kathmandu in 2013 to not just further her career but also help nurture young tennis talents. Now 24 years old, she was last ranked first in the All Nepal Lawn Tennis Women’s singles in 2014 and competed at the 2014 Summer Slam and the 2016 South Asian Games.
“As coaches, we are attempting to get more youth involved in the game. We don’t want a player’s financial status to be a hindrance to their potential success so we provide free coaching to promising players,” says Sharma. There is a lot of support internationally as well. Nepali players, from U-12 to U-18, travel frequently to places like Delhi and Thailand for fully funded international tennis training programmes. Colleges abroad also offer attractive scholarships to athletes, providing another carrot for young players to take up the sport. Seventeen-year-old Nepal champion Samrakshyak Bajracharya is currently studying at Brisbane Boys College in Australia with a scholarship, thanks to his tennis achievements. Similarly, former Junior-1 player Sakchyam Karki is studying at Luther College in the US on a sports scholarship.
“However, there are still a few problems with Nepali tennis,” says Sharma. “We have clay courts in most parts of the country and if there is heavy rainfall, it is difficult to play. Also, during tournaments, most of the games don’t start on time. According to tournament rules, we can only wait 15 minutes after the scheduled time for a player to arrive. But sometimes, a couple of hours are lost just waiting for a player to arrive. These are issues that both ANLTA and the government need to address.”
While the youth are certainly taking Nepali lawn tennis to new heights, interest has also grown among other age groups. National tournaments are now held across the country, in Kathmandu, Kaski, Hetauda and Butwal. ANLTA hosts tournaments in the 35 , 45 , 55 , 65 singles and doubles categories. Two new senior international tennis tournaments, International Tennis Federation (ITF) Seniors Circuits 1 and 2 are now being hosted annually in Pokhara. Many tennis courts are opening up, most recently in Budhanilkantha, to support the growth of players. Twenty years ago, the courts would remain vacant; these days, so many play in the mornings that they have to share courts or wait for hours for an open space.
With growing interest in the sport and a legion of young players hungry for international success, the future looks bright for Nepali tennis.Published: 2018-09-08 08:08:56