The Oman Tennis Association and Pro Tennis Oman are keen on catching them young and making them live their dreams of the Nadal-Federer kind. Alvin Thomas unleashes serves and volleys with the kids and the coaches
It’s 8am on Oman National Day. For most children, it’s a day off wherein they can pamper themselves watching cartoons or indulge in some homely activities. Maybe, if the mood is right, they may even get a chance to witness some of the fervour and zest on the roads.
But, it’s a completely different story for two young tennis players – Vivek Kolluru and Surya Mariappan – who are out in the sun, sweating their energy away. The determination in their eyes is enough to realise that they’re not forced to be on the tennis court at the Crowne Plaza – and that they’re there of their own accord.
Even the parents outside the court are sitting down to soak in the early morning sun.
Anxiety and excitement soon pervades the atmosphere as Andrei Razvan – the coach of the two young players – hurls the ball towards Vivek.
The young player takes a mighty swing at it as the ball soon finds its way to the far end of the court – but well within the lines. Surya, meanwhile, anticipates the move and is prepared for a quick forehand.
A couple of good returns from the two players see the parents back on their feet to eagerly watch their children play. Just as the duel intensifies, though, the coach steps in to break the flow, and the match.
Why? Well, that’s probably because this isn’t a match but rather one of the practice sessions of the day. The duo, however, aren’t too pleased, as I can see their eyes gleaming from the dazzling rally that they have just completed.
Andrei, who has been training young tennis stars for decades, has a few pointers for the children.
“Vivek, keep it a little lower and closer to the net,” says Andrei. The young boy confirms that he has understood with a firm nod.
Surya, meanwhile, is asked to move around the court a bit more so that he can access the corners of the play area effortlessly.
“The level and talent of these children is good,” says the coach, who takes a moment to talk to Y. “But we need more competitions to improve their experience.
“These kids are fabulous in practice but if they need to perform more under pressure. And it’s my duty to prepare them for tournaments and improve their general performance.”
Andrei has been with Pro Tennis Oman for the last six years, and takes care of roughly 25 students.
“I have kids from all nationalities (i.e. Germans, British, Indians, South American and so on),” he proudly says.
“I think tennis in Oman has developed a lot in the last years. The Oman Tennis Association is on its motto to organise more tournaments; I hear they’re going to start monthly tournaments for these kids.
“Little by little, the quality of the players is also going to increase. In two to three years, these kids are going to be competing in international tournaments,” he adds.
It’s hard to conceive why they wouldn’t. Vivek, 12, for instance started playing at the age of three!
“It’s my dream to be a tennis player,” says Vivek, who chants that he is a committed Rafael
But to get to grips with just how committed he is, I speak to Vivek’s parents Shyam and Dr Mythili Kolluru.
Shyam, a former cricketer and player in the prominent Ranji Trophy in India, takes pride in telling me that Vivek’s game is built on intense “hard work and determination”.
“When Vivek was three-and-a-half years old, he was naughty like every other boy. We couldn’t control his aggression. We had a tennis court near our house and we took him there. That’s when he started playing tennis.
He has since dedicated his life to the game; he plays tennis every day.
“After moving to Oman, we were posted in Ibra. There were no courts there. We painted our courts, drew the lines and even bought our own nets.
“It was me who coached Vivek for five years in Ibra.
“That’s when we signed up for the tournaments here with Pro Tennis Oman. We started coming here consistently and have won many tournaments.
“But even then, we knew we would come to Muscat one day. It took us five years but neither Vivek nor we gave up our passion for the game. And we exactly know where we are going in the next five years.
“The family goal is tennis,” the father says.
“It has been six months with Pro Tennis Oman, and we are very happy. Seeing a parent and a coach in the same person is challenging. Now it’s been easier for us also. The roles are now designated, and Andrei is doing a fantastic job coaching Vivek,” says Dr Mythili.
“Just look at how Andrei conducts the classes,” Shyam exclaims. “He was a tennis player during his time and he knows what a player must do on the court. This is what budding players need at this age,” he then tells.
He then goes on to praise the Oman Tennis Association (OTA): “I don’t know of any other association that conducts monthly tournaments. That encourages these young kids to do well.”
Cristina Grecu, a coach with Pro Tennis Oman, adds to Shyam’s statement, saying: “The OTA has been extremely supportive of the young children. The tournaments are held regularly now, and it’s one way to get the children to get motivated and also professional at the same time.
“I’m also sure that due to all the efforts of the young players, the OTA, the parents and the coaches, Oman will soon become a hub for tennis,” she adds.