Muscat, Jan 7 – Oman has the potential and the talent to produce good tennis players, felt the coach of the Indian Davis Cup team Zeeshan Ali, who was in Muscat on a personal visit. The former Indian star reminisced about his earliest visits to Oman and recollected the moments with vivid fondness. “I have fond memories of Oman as I first came here as a 15-year-old to play an exhibition match at Al Falaj Hotel in 1984. There was also a tournament at The Intercontinental where I used to come and play. And when I was living in Dubai, I would jump at every opportunity I would get to come to Muscat,’’ Zeeshan said. The current coach of the Indian Davis Cup team felt tennis has picked up really well in India and that is the reason he moved back home from Dubai five years back.
“I’m now the coach of the Indian Davis Cup team, till last year I was captain of the Indian Fed Cup team and Indian Olympic team. In India, tennis has picked up really well. I went to India five years ago since All India Tennis Association (AITA) chief Anil Khanna wanted me to come back and help nurture a new generation of players. Then later I was appointed coach of the team,’’ he added. Zeeshan also runs tennis academies in Bangalore which has a residential programme as well. As far as the Oman tennis scene is concerned, the talk immediately veers towards Fatma al Nabhani and Zeeshan has only good things to say about her. “I have met her often, met her in India last year and of course I have interacted with her two brothers as well,’’ he added.
With the wealth of experience that he possesses, Zeeshan is open to a mentoring role in Oman if the offer comes by.
“Oman has a lot of potential among the locals and expats. It is always in my mind (mentoring), I would love to do something since I have many years of experience, coaching for 22 years in different parts of the world,” he explained.
The game of tennis has evolved quite a bit and Zeeshan had his thoughts on the subject.
“During my time, the sport really took a turn. I started playing with wooden rackets, then turned to graphite rackets at 13-14 years of age. It was a huge shift in terms of the power,’’ Zeeshan said.
“We’ve seen tennis go to a completely different level. The fact that Federer and Nadal are still good even though the game has evolved so much and that comes down to supreme fitness. The guy who is 35 is no 2 in the world and has won two Grand Slams at that age,’’ he added.
Talking further about Oman tennis sensation Fatma, the Indian coach felt the talent is obviously there.
“She has got a lot of potential and a lot of talent. I just feel she has not lived up to her potential. She’s a strong girl, tall and like I said she has everything in terms of the game. She has a powerful game. When you look at somebody like her, she should be ranked a lot higher. Even her brothers have a lot of talent, when I was coach of UAE team I have chatted with them. But I would like to see more players come out of Oman and not just the family.
The infrastructure is there in Oman and it’s all about popularising the sport. The talent needs to be nurtured and guided. For example, in India the shift in mentality of Indian parents has been tremendous. Now there are top golfers, badminton players being produced and the parents feel you can take sport as a profession. I now have parents who say don’t worry about education, we want our child to be a top-class tennis player.
During our generation, all the players came from sporting backgrounds mostly. Now it’s not like that, parents are willing to invest in the child’s sporting ambitions. So it is like that, if you got to be a champion, train like a champion,’’ he added.
Zeeshan’s fledgling career was cut short by a back injury at the age of 24 but he had achieved a lot by then.
“I stopped playing tennis at 24 because of a back injury but I had achieved quite a bit by then. At the age of 16 I won the National title, I was the youngest National champion and won seven national singles titles, represented India at the Olympics, won the Asian Games gold medal and was ranked as high as 126th in the world (ATP rankings),’’ Zeeshan revealed.
When asked to single out one standout moment, Zeeshan mentioned his clash against the legendary Pete Sampras.
“Beating Pete Sampras a month before he won his first US Open title in 1988 was the big individual milestone definitely. As far as a team milestone is concerned, being part of the Indian Davis Cup team reaching the final in 1987 in Gothenburg, Sweden. They had four players who were in the top 10 in the world including Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg.
Edberg sat out the match although he was in the team and he had won Wimbledon that year,’’ Zeeshan revealed and chuckled.
“I was lucky to have been part of the two generations in Indian tennis. Playing with the likes of Vijay Amritraj and Ramesh Krishnan and later Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. Being part of history being made in Sweden and hearing the Indian national anthem being played is for any sportsperson the greatest honour,’’ he stated.