The Sri Lanka Tennis Association(SLTA) takes pride in being Asia’s oldest Tennis body. Established in 1915 as the Ceylon Lawn Tennis Association by a few British planters who were Tennis enthusiasts, it is older than the All India Tennis Association (1920). Since then, Tennis in Sri Lanka has come a long way. However, even with [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

SL Tennis needs FUNDS to be competitive at international level


Domestic competitions are in full swing but Sri Lanka needs to focus more at global level - Pic by Amila Gamage

The Sri Lanka Tennis Association(SLTA) takes pride in being Asia’s oldest Tennis body. Established in 1915 as the Ceylon Lawn Tennis Association by a few British planters who were Tennis enthusiasts, it is older than the All India Tennis Association (1920). Since then, Tennis in Sri Lanka has come a long way. However, even with a history of over 100 years, the question is whether we have achieved the desired results. Local Tennis needs a big boost to take it into the next level. In South Asia, Indian Tennis is dominant and far ahead of its neighbours. At the recent South Asian Games in India, Sri Lanka did very well to finish second to India in Tennis. The main reason for the success of Indian Tennis is its Home-Schooling system, which is not found in Sri Lanka due to many reasons.

In the Home-Schooling system, talented school Tennis players are enrolled into State-funded Tennis academies. The players’ Education is adjusted according to their Tennis practice sessions.  Presently, Sri Lanka is in Oceania Zone Group III in the Davis Cup, whereas India is in the World group.  If Sri Lanka Tennis intends to be a force to be reckoned with, it has a himalayan workload to do. SLTA needs to harness the outstation talent as well. The government too needs to give local Tennis a big boost to ensure the efforts are a success.  SLTA Vice President Udith Wickremasinghe, one of the best Tennis players in the mid 2000′s, who has represented Sri Lanka at the highest level, and is one of the youngest in the Tennis committee, had this to say on the present status of Sri Lanka Tennis and it’s future.

“Unlike decade ago, presently, we can see many youngsters taking up to Tennis. We have tournaments too, for Under (U)-10′s, U-12′s and U-14′s. Presently, players such as Harshana Godamanna, Shamal Dassanayake and Dineshkanthan Thangarajah, all Davis Cup players, have been in the scene for a long time. We need to see youngsters taking up their places in time to come. But, there is a big gap at the U-14 and U-18 level. We need to bridge that gap. Though our local coaches are talented, we need the aid of foreign coaches.Their input is needed for our youngsters. Tennis is played in about 180 countries, and is very competitive. We have a plan to conduct future coaching camps for U-16 and U-18 levels, which will surely enhance their performance. Our U-18 players must be sent for overseas tournaments for much needed foreign exposure.

For this, we need funds. The big issue we face is finding sponsorship. Not only Tennis, other racquet sports such as Squash and Badminton too are faced with the same problem. One of the obstacles facing Tennis is the education system here. An U-16 player will have to stop due to O/L’s, and start again after a lapse of two years. Same can be said of an U-18 player when it comes to A/L’s. He/she may have to stop and start after a lapse of two years. This system doesn’t benefit Tennis to progress. This is where the Home-Schooling system fits in. Home-Schooling system has many benefits. It teaches teamwork, sportsmanship, commitment, perseverance, and discipline, in addition to helping players stay physically fit.”
“All the stakeholders, the SLTA, the Ministry of Sports and the sponsors should come together to take the game to the next level. To harness outstation talent, the SLTA has regional programmes, from which we select the best and invite them to play at championships in Colombo.

At age 14, before they move onto the next level, players should be sent for overseas tournaments for exposure. This needs a lot of money. This is where the Ministry of Sports should step in. During my time, there were many good Tennis players such as Amrith Rupasinghe, Oshada Wijemanne and Franklyn Emmanuel, who could not give their best years for the country. They stopped playing Tennis at 16 for higher education overseas, and are now domiciled abroad. They received sports scholarships from their respective universities. For the development of local Tennis, we recently submitted plans to the Sports Ministry. It is a good sign the Education Ministry has introduced the U-13 age group for Tennis as well. Tennis starts at age 5 and continues till age 14, when the much needed international exposure is required by participating in overseas tournaments.

When we compare our Tennis standards with that of Thailand, Philippines, Pakistan and Bangladesh, it is worth mentioning that, though they have larger populations and a good infrastructure, our progress in Tennis is quite an achievement. In the decade of the 80′s, we had players of the calibre of Arjun Fernando and later, Umesh Waloopillai who carried the brunt of Sri Lanka’s Tennis challenge at Davis Cup tournaments. Presently, Harshana Godamanna has taken on the role of Arjun, by representing Sri Lanka at the Davis Cup for many years. In the recent Davis Cup playoff against Thailand, we did creditably well, with Godamanna playing exceptional tennis. Though we lost 2-3 and were relegated to Group III, we played better Tennis. Hence, we need a team of players like Godamanna, to win at a Davis Cup playoff. Future prospects for local Tennis look bright.

There will be coaching camps for our Davis and Fed Cup players under National head coach, Dutchman Eric Pietersz. That’s not all. There will be training programmes for all the up-and-coming talented players, who will be groomed to be the best.  In the coming months, local players will participate in U-14, U-16 and U-18 Tennis tournaments conducted by the International Tennis Federation( ITF) in Colombo. They will be exposed to many international players from over 100 countries. This will indeed be a good exposure for them, by rubbing shoulders against the best international Tennis players in their respective age groups.”  Sri Lanka Tennis needs a big boost to advance to the next level, at least to be on par with India. The SLTA cannot take that path alone. The Ministry of Sports and sponsors need to step in, to ensure a success journey.

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