Dubai: Zeeshan Ali, former India ace and now Davis Cup coach, has joined the rising chorus for financial backing to lower-ranked players and support staff involved in tennis.
Zeeshan, who was given the prestigious Dhyan Chand Award by the President of India for his contribution to tennis in 2014, said that the assistance to players and their support staff should be the ultimate priority of the government.
“This is the need of the hour when the government has to step in and protect our athletes. Funding has to be provided to not only to the players but also to the support staff. Tennis coaches all over the country are suffering as academies are shut and unlike a lot of other professions, we can’t work from home and earn,” Zeeshan told Gulf News from Bengaluru where he runs his Zeeshan Ali Tennis Academy (ZATA).
“These are tough times, be it sport or otherwise. Tennis in general is facing a situation never experienced before and it’s taking a toll on every single player no matter what his or her ranking or nationality,” he observed.
“The toughest part we are facing is the uncertainty of when the Tours will start. Tennis players generally set short or long time goals with certain tournaments or a tennis season in mind and they work accordingly. Right now, the toughest part is not knowing when we can get back on court. No matter how much of training we do, there is no substitute to competition,” he added.
Winner of the singles gold medal at the 1994 Asian Games (Hiroshima) and a bronze at the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, Zeeshan was ranked No.2 in the world and No.1 in Asia in the juniors in 1986. He won a total of 14 ITF junior tournaments that year and reached the singles semi-finals Wimbledon juniors.
Now 50, Zeeshan eventually stopped playing on the professional circuit in 1995 due to a back injury, but by then he had won a total of seven Indian men’s singles and four doubles national championships. He still holds the place of being the youngest men’s national champion - having won the first national championship when he was only 16.
Zeeshan is also concerned about the welfare of the players and support staff involved. “Mentally, it’s taking a toll on a lot of the players who rely on playing week after week for their income. The only thing the players can do at this point in time is to keep themselves in shape. I have always maintained that the tennis part can always be worked on by hitting balls five hours of the day. But if the body is not in a shape to do that, then it will take a longer time to get back,” Zeeshan offered.
“My guess is that when things do get back to normal, the ATP, WTA or the ITF will announce a timeline and a schedule and the players will be in a better position to prepare both physically and mentally for the challenges ahead,” he added.