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Centre Court - An Indian Summer at Wimbledon
by Sriram (Book Preview) | Published On: 02-Aug-2017

Blurb: Shankar Mahadevan arrives at Wimbledon, ranked No. 41 in the world, the highest-ranked singles tennis player from India in over three decades.Disowned by the Indian tennis establishment and hounded by a controversy-seeking media, Shankar is exhausted after years chasing an elusive, possibly futile dream. This may well be his last year on the professional tennis circuit, his last trip to the hallowed grass of the All England Club.

Then he starts winning. 
Round by round, as he first survives, then discovers his best game, Shankar has to deal with the media frenzy, the increased weight of his own expectations and changed equations with coach, family and past relationships. Will this lead him to victory?

The excerpt given below is from the latter half of the book.


‘Mike Donald Evicted from Wimbledon!


Luke Donald, the fifteen year old Australian prodigy, was playing the Wimbledon Juniors which had started on the weekend. His father Mike was a beefy, florid-faced man, much given to talking his son up to anyone willing to give him an audience. At the Australian this year, the papers were full of Luke’s astonishing prowess, so I had slipped into the crowd to see what all the fuss was about.


The boy was very good for his age. If he kept his head on straight, worked hard and didn’t get sucked into the media vortex, he would make a top player in a few years. But the father was insufferable. Throughout Luke’s match against his opponent (a match I thought Luke would win comfortably anyway), his father kept swigging beer and shouting from the sidelines in his rasping voice.


‘Come on, come on. Get him now, this game now!’


He couldn’t obviously coach Luke from the sidelines, not at this level, but he kept telling his son to ‘Get in there’, wherever ‘there’ was.

After a few games of this, I couldn’t handle it anymore, so I left.


Over the year, Luke and his father featured regularly in the papers. When Luke made the quarters of the French Juniors (at fifteen!), we all sat up and took note. The same day, Mike Donald was involved in a punch-up with some Algerians in a Montmartre bar, and we were treated to pictures of a bleeding Mike being thrown out by a pair of bouncers.


Yesterday at the club, Mike had apparently shouted obscenities at the chair umpires in Luke’s second round match. Wimbledon reacted, swiftly and decisively, and banned Mike for the rest of the tournament. The ITF had been notified and were considering a longer term penalty.


I have seen my fair share of tennis parents, and they all range from the slightly daft to the downright demented. Mike is hardly the first, nor even the most outlandish example, and he won’t be the last.


Some are control freaks—parents who drive their child to an often dangerous degree, insisting on four hours a day on court from the age of eight, come rain or shine. O en there’s physical abuse—tales of fathers slapping their boys after losses are common. It happens on the girls’ side too. Players as accomplished as Mary Pierce, JelenaDokic, and MirjanaLucic have revealed that they were physically and mentally abused by their fathers. The mothers aren’t any different.


On the junior circuit, most parents are delusional when it comes to their child. The mildest version is where the father of a child who has no game, really, spends a fortune on private coaching and academies in Europe year after year, with little to show for it. It is apparent to everyone else—to players, coaches, other parents—that the child is never going to make it, but the father ploughs on regardless. This kind of parent is a Godsend for coaches, who’re only too happy to cash in on the situation. In its more virulent form, the delusion develops into a thoroughly obnoxious and dangerous attitude, an inner conviction that everyone else is the enemy, out to get you. There is also a defense mechanism that kicks in, wherein every loss is not because the opponent was simply better, but because of a host of other reasons.


I suppose money is at the heart of it. Tennis is expensive—including coaching, classes, equipment, travel, parents end up spending small fortunes. So they are not merely emotionally invested, there are serious financial implications too. Then you take the ‘us versus the world’ mentality, the purely individual nature of the game, and the pressures in a match, and it’s a potent brew, ready to bubble over anytime.


I have seen fist fights hours before a match. I have seen mothers throw shoes at umpires. I have seen a fully- grown nineteen-year old lad refuse to go back home after a tournament, afraid of his father’s reaction. I have seen women WTA players take out restraining orders against their fathers.


All things considered, I suppose I’m only moderately crazy. Even so, the mind-numbing routine of the game—the daily hitting, the fitness schedules, the endless conveyor belt of registrations and main draws and ranking points updates—has taken its toll on our family and social life. We missed six consecutive family weddings, and it got to a point where we stopped receiving invitations altogether. Relations flying in from the US or Europe usually gave Pune a miss, for they all knew we wouldn’t be available.


I suppose it’s similar for other sports as well. The other day, I was walking by a common and I saw a group of English schoolboys playing football. Watching by the sidelines were a bunch of fathers and one gentleman was turning purple and waving his hands, shouting himself hoarse, ‘Play the Channel! Play the Channel!’


I have no idea what that meant, for I don’t understand the technicalities of football so much. But the expression, the sentiment sounded familiar.


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