Obstacles Galore, But their wheels keep spinning

Balachandar S in action at the Marina Open, in Chennai on Wednesday

Balachandar S in action at the Marina Open, in Chennai on Wednesday


Balachandar S, the joint-first wheelchair singles’ tennis player from the city talks about the paucity of sponsors in the field .

CHENNAI : It was a usual Wednesday morning, even for the periphery of SDAT Stadium in Nungambakkam. People milled about outside the venue, trying to beat the heat en route their jobs, while workers busied themselves in keeping the venue’s entrance spic and span. It was only inside the tennis courts that the humdrum of another typical weekday was in the process being broken, by the whirring of steel wheels and the twangs that resonated from tennis balls being smacked around by racquets. The first day of the second edition of the Marina Open AITA-ranking wheelchair tennis tournament was going on in full swing.

For an outsider — there weren’t many at the venue, so to speak — the event would probably seem more like a family gathering rather than a professional tournament.“All of us have been playing against each other for a while now, apart from practising together,” explains Balachandar S, the joint-first wheelchair singles’ tennis player in India. Polio may have handicapped him as a one-year-old, but the now 38-year-old pharmacist-cum-sportsperson from Chennai has made his presence felt on the international stage, including the 2010 Asian Para Games.

“It’s a professional tournament, yes. But we’re also a very tightly-knit unit. Everybody knows everybody.” Like all other sports that have failed to make their mainstream transition, wheelchair tennis too is faced with one particular enemy: lack of funds.“A normal wheelchair costs nearly `30,000. More specialised ones (like Balanchandar’s, provided to him by his sponsor AMF) may end up burning a `3 lakh-hole in your pockets. Throw in racquets — upwards of `10,000 — and tennis balls, apart from expenses incurred for travel, and even the `35,000 that the winner of this tournament (total prize purse of `2.32 lakh) will end up with will definitely come across as inadequate. Perhaps a national-level tournament (as evident from its name, Marina Open is an open event) could help change that in the future.”

This paucity of sponsors, ironically, has further strengthened the players’ family-like bond. So much so that Balachandar is pairing up with Shekar Veerasamy — the other top singles player — in the doubles category so as to not jeopardise each other’s chances of bagging one.“For me, and for my fellow players, sports is more of an identity. Personally, I’ve always been playing sports — be it cricket or tennis — ever since I was a child, and I’ve never let my disability come in the way,” remarks Balachandar.“It makes you all that more stronger. I’ve been on the court for nearly 13 years now, and I don’t see that changing in the future.”

Results: Singles — Men: 
C Ganagadharappa (KA) bt C Nayan Sarathe (MP) 9-4; Sankaravel N (TN) bt SN Shinde (MH) w/o; H Madhusudan (KA) bt Hanumanthappa DN (KA) 9-0; Shivaprasad (KA) bt Sathiyamoorthy (TN) 9-1; Arul M (TN) bt Devendra BK (KA) 9-2; S Tavali (KA) bt Karthik M (TN) 9-0; Suresh KS (TN) bt Pandurangaswamy VR (KA) 9-0; AD Almedia (KA) bt Keshvan K (KA) 9-0; D Anjinappa (KA) bt Saravanan D (KA) 9-3; Kedar KM(ND) bt Basavaraj K (KA) 9-1; D Mariappan (TN ) bt Indhara BS (KA) 9-0; M Gabriel (TN) bt Ganesan M (TN) 9-2; Indrajeet P (UP) bt Alexander J S (TN) 9-8 (3); Moulali MG (KA) bt Anjenappa M (KA) 9-1; Balachandar S (TN) bt Sathasivam Kannupayan (TN) 9-1. Women: Khushbu G (KA) bt Ruth R(TN) 9-1; Shilpa KP (KA) bt Sudha A (TN) 9-0; Prathma R (KA) bt Ruth R (TN ) 9-0; Shilpa KP (KA) bt Geetha Chouhan (KA) 9-0. Doubles: Men: Gabriel/Suresh Kumar bt Hanumanthappa /Indudhara 9-0.

Sunil Jain