In the last few years, the state has seen a surge of interest among the youth in tennis. Coaching classes, tournaments and leagues are not uncommon with tennis courts mushrooming in parts of the state
There was a time when tennis was played only by a very few – but not anymore, say those involved with the sport. “Over the past five years, there has been a marked increase in the number of people who play tennis. You know a sport is becoming popular when more people want to play the sport just to have fun,” says president, Goa State Tennis Association (GSTA), Nathan Chowgule who is encouraged to see the growing number of young tennis players in the state.
“I think Goa is getting to a better place as we have seen the tennis community grow. Apart from tennis tournaments there are also leagues being held which is a welcome move. Additionally, infrastructure has improved with more courts being added in and around Panaji and Margao,” says Chowgule.
Clube Tennis de Gaspar Dias, Goa’s first tennis club organises the annual Gadre Gaspar Dias Open in an effort to bring more players into the fold and popularise the sport. The results have been encouraging with entries increasing with each passing year.
“By far this fifth edition of the Gadre Gaspar Dias Open has seen the most number of participants with over 250 entries coming in across eight categories. Players from other states as well as international participants travelled down to Goa as the tournament has received acclaim. Usually entries go up by 15 per cent – 20 per cent each year. But this year it just shot up by 40 per cent,” explained secretary, GSTA, Rajendra Godinho.
Godinho attributes the growing success of the tournaments to the many individuals and organisations who continue to contribute their time, effort and funds to elevate the sport. “One needs funds to be able to organise a tournament of such a high standard. We are fortunate to have the support of Arjun Gadre of the Gadre Group who has consistently supported the efforts of the club and tennis community in Goa every year. This year, Panjim Gymkhana offered us its brand new courts due to the increase in entries. The ready support of organisations and individuals has been heartening and encouraging.”
Goa’s Natasha Palha has done phenomenally well at the national and international level with a WTA Singles ranking of 492 and ITF Singles Ranking of 788. Like Natasha, other talent can emerge if more youth take up the sport and are offered the right kind of training and support, feel member of the tennis community. Oftentimes though, young players don’t pursue it.
A Gadre Gaspar Dias tournament favourite and winner of the 2020 edition Tejas Shevde agrees that Goa has immense talent but many don’t pursue competitive tennis. “There are a lot of youngsters that are coming to learn and play the sport in the last couple of years but they don’t end up pursuing it at a competitive level. There is a lot of talent within the community and I really hope they continue to develop their skills and take the sport to the next level.”
Godinho agrees that though the talent exists there have been factors that impact the growth of the sport. “Infrastructure is a hurdle. No doubt a few more tennis courts have come up but there is still limited access to these tennis courts for the general public. Often, one needs to be a member at a club to have access to the courts. Schools too don’t encourage sports as much, let alone tennis.”
The situation is changing though, Godinho admits. “Don Bosco in Panaji now has a tennis court where GSTA has offered to train students. We are hopeful that students will take to the sport. Moreover, Fatorda will now have four excellent tennis courts coming up, thanks to the infrastructure being created for the national games,” he explains.
Soon Goa may be able to introduce state and All India Tennis Association (AITA) ranking tournaments, explains Godinho. “For a state to introduce state ranking, it has to organise several tournaments and leagues at a junior level every year. With the courts getting ready for the national games, more tournaments and leagues can be held. With new courts being introduced things look promising” says Godinho.
“We would love Goa to be able to host AITA ranking tournaments. Bringing high quality tournaments to the local people will grow the sport faster. There are a lot of ITF (International Tennis Federation) tournaments that want to come to Goa but presently we lack facilities for them to host their tournaments here. If we get the facilities, we all will be surprised with the way tennis will flourish in Goa,” says Chowgule.
He agrees that Goa has much to offer to the sport in terms of talent. “Goa has produced a number of excellent national players. Tejas Shevde has been one of the top players in the country while Natasha Palha is among the very best in the country. Many other players have reached national finals and also have won it in the past. I feel even with the limited infrastructures Goa has seen a number of good national tennis players emerge. This will only get better in the future,” he concludes.