National Tennis Championships 2019: Players' convenience paramount, they should not be forced to worry about basic facilities, says event organiser Ajay Shriram
DCM Shriram Group has been an omnipresent force with the National Tennis Championship held in New Delhi. Recently, past champions congregated to celebrate the company's 25 year association with Indian tennis.
Former national tennis champions came together to celebrate DCM Shriram Group's association with the tournament.
DCM Shriram Group previously organised Delhi tournaments before moving to junior and now the senior level national tournaments.
In 2012, the tournament moved to equal prize money for men and women following suggestion by Sania Mirza.
New Delhi: On Monday, national champions of the past gathered at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA) for a special event also featuring Olympic silver medallist and former Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. Rathore was in attendance to feat these champions of the past as the national tournament celebrated its 25 years. A quarter of a century since the DCM Shriram Group Chairman and Managing Director Ajay Shriram took up the mantle of organising the tournament in a more efficient manner. Over the years, the tournament's name has changed from Shriram Open to DSCL Open to the present Fenesta Open, but the DCM Shriram Group brand has been omnipresent.
Firstpost spoke to Ajay Shriram on the development of the tournament over 25 years, challenges, improving the standard of the tournament on a yearly basis and what lies ahead. Excerpts:
It has been 25 years to the Nationals and your association with India's premier junior tennis tournament. How has the journey been?
When we entered, the idea was to fill the gap and make things better organised. We tried to get the play organised in North, South, East, West so there could be local elimination and not everyone has to come to Delhi. And they can have their selection process better in say south India. That's how it grew in the initial years. Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA) and All India Tennis Association (AITA) also took an active interest. So there was a collective drive to encourage the talent and the game in India. Now when you look back, there are some of the former championships who are playing on the international circuit. So that comes as a boost to all the players. We're very happy to see the way the tournament has been established, the way it is organised.
One thing which was important and what we did was we're paying the highest prize money in India in a tournament of this type. A few years ago, Sania Mirza was the chief guest at the prize distribution and she asked, 'Why is the prize money between men, women and boys and girls different?' So we changed that policy then and there.
In the last 25 years, we've pushed the game and improved facilities. We don't want parents to run around and wonder how they're going to manage. It has become a recognised tournament in India and we get the best players to participate in it.
Was it always an idea to have the Nationals spread out?
We always were looking at options only in Delhi — as the focal point. Five, seven years back, we had almost 1700 players. So the matches would carry on till one o'clock in the night. So now through the new process with DLTA, AITA put in place, the number of players is truncated based on their elimination rounds or the ranking system. So now, about 1000 participate. Then, Delhi also is the option because we're based here. I mean, our office is here, our family is here, our company is here. We've been here for the last over 100 years. So Delhi was our home base.
Delhi has good facilities so getting players from the rest of the country was not a problem. DLTA is fantastic. And they've also kept upgrading their facilities and the quality of their courts.
What were the challenges that prompted you to work on a national tennis tournament?
Just the organisation. So things like where do they stay, what is the amount we're paying them after they reach the qualifying level, you know, just basic fundamental housekeeping work which needs to be organised. At that time, IT was not so prevalent, but we started on the internet. So any player could log on and see what time is their game. We wanted to make it convenient for the player so that he is he or she is mentally at ease to focus on the game and not on the worries around it.
How have things changed in these last 25 years?
We have now the advantage of technology. Digital technology helps us manage the game much better by sending information to all the players, by their logging on and knowing where they stand, in terms of our the details of the game, in terms of our scoring system, in terms of our evaluation, in terms of even the timely utilisation of the courts. We can plan the game much better. We see the lighting and all has gone up dramatically and improved, so the game can carry on till later at night. So overall, the improvement of the courts has been quite good.
What are the challenges that come with organising a tournament of this size?
To be honest, you know, we've always moved on the premise. And I say it every time when we have our final to the larger audience at the stadium, that please send us your suggestions, ideas, what to do. And we look forward to getting ideas and suggestions how to improve the tournament. You can always improve everything. So we want ideas and suggestions how to improve further. Some people had suggested we keep different types of energy drinks available. Someone once said, please have a system so that if a racket gut breaks, you can get that repaired there and then. Now all these are there. So all these have come over the last 15 years of suggestions, ideas, and the input of DLTA/AITA people. And I'm sure new ideas will keep coming from people who are playing the tournament and those who are coming and watching the tournament.
There's talk of bridging the prize money for singles and doubles players. Thoughts?
The prize money that goes to the doubles team is still not different because there are two people versus one person. And we're not being pushed by the doubles teams either. We follow the principles of prize money which is done all over the world. And it was done for all the other ITF tournaments in India.
How big of a challenge is it to get the biggest players to play the Nationals?
Frankly in India, a lot of players who play the Nationals have all gone forward and moved to the national circuit and some have played bigger tournaments in the world. So we can provide a platform for the Indian players and they have to pursue it further. We provide a platform to the youngsters and the passionate, competitive players to play the game in an organised way at a national-level tournament. That's how we look at it. Our initial objective was to provide the youngsters with a good platform. And that is being done.
What next? What is the vision for the next few years?
We are going to brainstorm on this but I think we are happy with the way last 25 years have gone. We are happy with the participation level of our tournament, we are happy with the sort of outcome and the sort of satisfaction of the players who participate. We're doing a good job today and let's see how things evolve.
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