New Delhi: Indian tennis legend Ramesh Krishnan on Tuesday said lack of domestic competition is the reason behind the dearth of quality players in the country, adding the sport needs to be taken to the far-flung areas to produce future champions.
A legend in his own right, Ramesh had guided India to the finals of the 1987 Davis Cup after beating Australia in the semifinals at Sydney.
Asked about the lack of good Indian players, he said: "Those times were different. At that time, Indian tennis circuit was an important part of world circuit. We had good competitions every 3-4 months, it didn't cost you so much money but now what has happened is all the competition has moved to Europe and so Europe is benefiting so much where everything is happening in their backyard.
"So for an Indian child to come through they have to travel further which gets a lot more expensive. The sooner you have more competitions in your own backyard, it gives the children a chance to fine-tune.
"We had excellent competition at home then. Also, the Europeans only were playing part of the year, in the winter months they would not play," explained Ramesh, who won the Wimbledon and French Open junior titles in 1979 and was ranked the No. 1 junior player in the world once.
Son of the legendary Ramanathan Krishnan, Ramesh, who reached three Grand Slam quarter-finals in the 1980s and was ranked world no. 23 in 1985, said: "There are so many other sports which are doing well now. Badminton has been doing well. Every sport has to fight for its participants now. It is an exciting time for Indian sports and tennis has to push and get more and more children involved. It is a healthy competition.
"Lot of the talented ones are going to other sports. I also would like it to go to the smaller areas, tennis is still centered around the major centers like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, Bangalore. The way cricket has succeeded in taking the sport to Ranchi or any corner of the county, tennis has to learn from that," added Ramesh, who became India's Davis Cup captain in 2007.
Asked about the current top Indian players such as Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri, the 53-year-old said: "Somdev was coming along very nicely and I think he had a shoulder injury from which I don't think he has really fully recovered... That is a bit unfortunate.
"Yuki also had a few good wins, so it is a question of enough people pushing and someone will take it higher and higher," he said.
On the dearth of quality women's singles players in India, Ramesh said: "I think we need to get more tournaments, get more people involved. I think there are more people playing sport, we need to get the good ones and attract them to tennis.
"Last year, Sania Mirza had an outstanding year and even couple of weeks ago in California she has won a good tournament. So she seems to be maintaining her form."
Ramesh had beaten the then World No. 1 Mats Wilander at the 1989 Australian Open and came close to winning an Olympic medal when he along with Leander Paes reached the quarterfinals of the 1992 Games in Barcelona.
He was here at the capital for the signing of a MoU between All India Tennis Association (AITA) and French Tennis Federation (FFT) and launch of the 'Rendezvous a Roland Garros', a junior tournament which offers a wild-card for the 2015 French Open junior event in Paris.
Sharing his insight on clay courts, Ramesh said: "We don't have enough clay court. I think the shift has been a bit too much to hard court. I would like to have more clay courts, I think for Indians conditions, clay is better suited.
"So I hope with this association with Ronald Garros, we will get more clay courts and expertise in building and maintaining clay courts. It is lot easier on the body and given the weather conditions we have in India, it will be a good addition for us."
Ramesh still follows tennis a lot and he considers Roger Federer as the best player in the world.
"Federer is the best now. But in clay I feel Bjorn Borg and Rafael Nadal are the best," he said.
"It is different now, it is more of an entertainment of show business. I think once it got into television, sports exploded. Previously, when we used to play only followers of tennis would watch. Now it is a show business."
So does he misses the old-school tennis? "Yes, we do miss but then you see a Roger Federer play and he seems to do it rather nicely," he said with his trademark impish half-smile.
After his retirement, Ramesh opened a tennis academy in Chennai.
Asked if Indian coaches are at par with foreign ones, Ramesh said, "I think where an Indian coach may need some help is how do you take a good junior and make him a good senior player.
"I think we have had many coaches, who can teach the fundamentals very well, but how do you take a good 16 or 17 year old and get him ready for prime time and that is where the big push has to come. I think we need finishing touches and coach for the advance players."