News WrapGet Handpicked Stories from our editors directly to your mailbox

Indian tennis needs top class singles players: Tim Henman

The likes of Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri might be doing well in the circuit but that's not enough and Indian tennis needs some top class singles players to take the interest to a higher level, Britain's former No 1 Tim Henman said on Sunday.

Indian tennis needs top class singles players: Tim Henman

Kolkata: The likes of Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri might be doing well in the circuit but that's not enough and Indian tennis needs some top class singles players to take the interest to a higher level, Britain's former No 1 Tim Henman said on Sunday.

"The interest has always been great in Indian tennis with Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi in the last 15-20 years but it's important that you have next generation coming through," Henman said lamenting about India's fortune in the post Lee-Hesh era.

"You want top class singles players, that's the highest level in tennis. It's good to maintain the interest and hopefully one of the younger players come up. I know you have a couple of younger players improving their rankings but I would love to see top class singles players because that would take the interest level to a higher level," the four-time Wimbledon semifinalist said.

Hailing Paes' fitness and agility at 41 years, he said: "It's fantastic that Leander is still going strong. He's a year older than me -- he's 41. He won another doubles title. It's interesting to see how long he can keep it going."

The 11-time Tour winner is here as the ambassador for HSBC Road to Wimbledon U-14 programme wherein the top two each in boys and girls will get a chance to compete at the Junior Masters in Wimbledon.

Henman said he's here to promote grasscourts tennis and at the same time develop grassroots talents in India with AITA having a three-year pact with the Road to Wimbledon programme.

Talking about Indian youngsters, he said: "They have a natural ability and have a lot of hand skills. I think they have to improve on the physical aspect as the game has become faster and the players have become more athletic. They need to play overseas to gain exposure and be in the right mental and physical frame and there's no reason why they should not reach the next level.

"I'm really impressed by the standards of the boys and girls here. This is an opportunity that can grow from strength to strength. I'm grateful to the All England Club for the time and effort they are putting in.

"This has got a good future for grass roots tennis and hopefully grasscourts tennis. We hope we can expand through out Asia. I look forward to coming back many more times."

The 40-year-old English icon incidentally had kick-started his career in India in 1994 with three successive tournament wins on the Indian satellite circuit.

"This is my first visit to Kolkata. I played one of the most important Satellites in my career in 1993 and I won three of the four tournaments in the circuit. It makes extra special to me to come back to India."

Henman further said he would prefer to play on Calcutta South Club grasscourts than Wimbledon since it has changed to 100 per cent Perennial Ryegrass in 2001.

"Earlier it used to be a lot faster and stayed a little bit low. But the grasscourts in Wimbledon became 100 percent Ryegrass which has much harder bearing. The ball does not skid through as much.

"If I had the choice I would like to play with this grasscourts. It looks absolutely beautiful here."

His contemporaries Michael Chang and Goran Ivanisevic may have turned to coaching but Henman said it's not an option for him.

"I don't think full time coaching as an option. It would mean a lot of travel and less time with my family. I'm lucky to be part of this programme."

Henman further said he loved watching the franchise tennis leauge of CTL and IPTL recently.

"I really enjoyed. I'm a very good friend of Bhupathi. He's done a fantastic job in taking world class players to different regions. Hopefully it has got a bright future."

An English cricket fan at heart, Henman would closely follow his country at the upcoming World Cup, but he added Australia and defending champions India too have a good chance.

Asked to pick his World Cup title contender, he said: "England, of course. Everybody is going to be a big challenge. I'm a sports fan. I played rugby, football, cricket, hockey, golf, squash and a fair bit of tennis as well, when I was growing up.

"I will be watching the Rugby World Cup as well. I'm sure with the success of Indian cricket over the years, they will be one of the favourites as well. Australia will also fancy their chances at home. Fingers crossed but England can improve. They have been struggling recently."

Meanwhile in the Kolkata leg of the Road to Wimbledon, Shashank Theertha (Andhra Pradesh) and Vipul Mehta (Delhi) finished one-two in the boys category, while Jammu and Kashmir girl Prinkle Singh and Shivani Amineni finished top two in girls.

There will be three more legs of the meet in Chandigarh (January 17-24), Delhi (January 31-February 7) and Mumbai (February 7-14) as the top 16 will play the Junior Masters in Delhi from April 6-11 to decide on the top four fianlists for the UK HSBC National Finals at the Wimbledon from August 10-15.