New Delhi: Indian tennis icon Vijay Amritraj, one of the greatest players of his time in the country, considers Swiss maestro Roger Federer, who recently lifted his 100th ATP title at the Dubai Tennis Dubai Duty-Free Tennis Championships, a 'magician'.
In an exclusive interview to Zee News, Amritraj described Federer as a 'magician' and said that the 20-time Grand Slam winner has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he is a champion among the champions.
"Well, he has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he is a genius. He is a great, incredible champion among the champions. Even winning 20 major titles in his career so far, he still stays very strong and relevant. Every time he goes to a tournament, he is unimaginable. He is a magician," he said.
Federer took revenge of his shocking Australian Open defeat to Stefanos Tsitsipas by beating the 20-year-old Greek 6-4, 6-4 in the finals of the Association's of Tennis Professional (ATP) tournament in Dubai.
Despite young talented players like Tsitsipas coming up with some remarkable performances in recent times, Amritraj believes Federer is the favourite to win his ninth Wimbledon title in 2019.
"Having good wins is different from winning the tournament over seven days. So all these guys, every one of them like Tsitsipas, Nick Kyrgios... all these younger guys who are able to have one or two great matches. They have to prove to the top guys that they can also win these majors and these three big guys (Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic) are still working extra hard to keep these young guys at bay. So, those three guys are still the favourite for Wimbledon," the Indian icon said when asked if Tsitsipas could challenge Federer for the Wimbledon title.
Amritraj's comments came during the launch event of the Road to Wimbledon in the national capital on Monday, The All England Lawn Tennis Club’s prestigious junior tournament for players aged 14 and under.
The tournament will not only see the participants train under world-renowned former India No.1 Amritraj, but the winners of the event will go on to represent India at the Road to Wimbledon Finals which is slated to take place from August 11 to 17 on Wimbledon’s historic grass courts.
With an aim to develop a strong pipeline of junior grass court tennis players across Asia, the Road to Wimbledon will see two concurrent events this week, with the girls’ Masters taking place at the Gymkhana Club in New Delhi and the boys’ Masters at the Chandigarh Club in Chandigarh.
Amritraj, who is via the Road to Wimbledon initiative playing a key role in creating a stronger culture of tennis and ultimately contributing towards the progress of Indian tennis in the future, said that it is a magical moment for the young aspiring players to understand what Wimbledon is all about and get a chance to represent India at the pinnacle of the sport.
"It has been around for a few years now. I think this is something that I could not even dream about when I was playing the game. We were said that Wimbledon was our goal... your dream was to get into it. I was telling the kids today that here Wimbledon is coming to you and that is such a special magical moment for them to understand what it (Wimbledon) is all about and to give themselves a chance to get to this pinnacle of the sport. This kind of fulfilled their dream," Amritraj said.
When quizzed if the initiative will play a major role in cultivating strong tennis talent from the country, the Indian icon admitted that the tournament is definitely a critical element for their growth.
"Yes, I think so Road to Wimbledon will help in cultivating strong tennis players from the country because this is a big boost for both boys and girls in this under-14 years category which is critical to give them the opportunity of three or four years before they get to play junior Wimbledon. I think it is a critical element for growth," he said.
On being asked what it would be required to put in to further strength Indian tennis at the international level, Amritraj was quick to say that sport can only be developed by efforts at an individual level.
"It comes down to the individual. The individual work ethics, individual commitment, the individual being able to play the right tournament, individual's coaching, their physical attributes. All these things come into play from the individual's commitment and hard work and what they need to do. Today, the opportunities are there, more coaches are available at different centres, more kids are playing the game, more sponsorships are available, the states are helping their top players. So, there is a lot more available today," the tennis legend stressed.
Amritraj also talked about the Indian tennis player who has impressed him the most in recent years. He said that though there is no one particular at the moment, he is quite impressed with the recent performances of Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who defeated Georgia's Nikoloz Basilashvili in a three-set thriller to storm into the third round of the BNP Paribas Open.
"I don't think there is any particular one at this point. Because the question is we are looking for performance irrespective of how good they are at 14 or 15. The important thing at the end of the day for us is that they compete at Grand Slams, play Wimbledon on regular basis, play Davis Cup, play Fed Cup and that is the most important thing. Prajnesh has performed really well in the Indian Wells this week. We all are very excited about it. He is a great Indian tennis player. He is 29 years of age but I have always said that we Indians tend to mature physically later. So, this is a great opportunity for us to bank on," he signed off.
Success in the United Kingdom’s largest tennis participation event has proven to be a key stepping stone for previous Indian junior champions.
India’s qualifying champions of 2018, Sanjana Sirimalla and Udit Gogoi, made their mark in the Road to Wimbledon Finals, with Sanjana finishing the event as the girls’ runner-up. Not only did Udit reached the boys’ singles semi-finals but together with Chirag Duhan, won the boys’ doubles title last year.