The ball is in their court

Meet the young finalists of the Road to Wimbledon competition before they journey to London


Dan Bloxham (left), head coach for the All England Club, the four finalists and Paul Hutchins (extreme right). Photos:  Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Dan Bloxham (left), head coach for the All England Club, the four finalists and Paul Hutchins (extreme right). Photos: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

It’s a searing hot April morning at Delhi’s Gymkhana Club. Britain’s longest-serving Davis Cup captain, Paul Hutchins, is sitting under one of the many big green umbrellas, along with a motley crowd made up of families and coaches grunting a “come on”, “shot!” every now and then. He is closely observing the four matches that are taking place simultaneously at the four courts that lie side-by-side. These are the India-leg finals of the four-week-long Road to Wimbledon (RTW) competition (it ended on 15 April)—the winners and runners-up from the girls’ and boys’ draws here will go on to play at the RTW Finals at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London, in August.

Hutchins, in Wimbledon’s trademark all-white, is here in his capacity as tournament director, a job he has done since 2002. The RTW, the largest junior (under-14) grass-court tournament, has returned to India for the fourth time.

When the tournament was looking to expand out of England initially, Hutchins had thought of India. He was familiar with the All India Tennis Federation and the country, having served as the English team leader captain at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. “We started with a pilot project here in 2014 and it worked, so we committed ourselves for (the next) three years,” he says. “Also, I believe India has the most Facebook-interest in the world for the championships!” Since then, the RTW has expanded to China and Hong Kong, and it sees Asia as an “untapped market” for the Wimbledon brand.

Hutchins says the aim isn’t to “coach individual players” or “start a Wimbledon academy”, but to “try and build up a junior world circuit” of grass-court players. He highlights this since only one of the four tennis majors, or Grand Slams, is now played on grass courts. “Australia (the Australian Open) and America (US Open) used to both have grass earlier (but not any more),” he says. “We are trying to, over the next 10-20 years, give more opportunity for grass-court tournaments—whether that be ITF (International Tennis Federation, under-18), or Road to Wimbledon (under-14).”

Since the RTW India’s debut, Hutchins has nurtured a bond with some of the 32 players from each year, as well as their families—he had just met the father of Sacchitt Sharma (the 2015 boys’ singles winner and now a member of the Junior Davis Cup squad), and remembers Siddhant Banthia (the 2014 boys’ singles winner) and Mahak Jain (the 2015 girls’ singles winner), who will be playing in the ITF’s main draw at the Wimbledon in July.

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The four finalists

Sarah Dev
Sarah Dev

Sarah Dev, 13, Punjab, Runner-up

Favourite all-time men’s player

Roger Federer.

Who’s next after Serena Williams?

Maria Sharapova.

Your favourite surface

Hard courts.

Whose style do you follow?

No one in particular.

Favourite Wimbledon moment

I think in the end when they get the trophy, the winning shot…the winning moment.

Denim Yadav
Denim Yadav

Denim Yadav, 12, Madhya Pradesh, Runner-up

Favourite all-time men’s player

Rafael Nadal.

Who’s next after Serena Williams?

Garbiñe Muguruza.

Your favourite surface

Synthetic surfaces.

Whose style do you follow?

Rafael Nadal.

Favourite Wimbledon moment

When Federer played Nadal in 2008, the Wimbledon men’s singles final.

Sandeepti Singh Rao.
Sandeepti Singh Rao.

Sandeepti Singh Rao, 13, Haryana, Winner

Favourite all-time men’s player

Roger Federer.

Who’s next after Serena Williams?

Maria Sharapova.

Your favourite surface

Clay courts.

Whose style do you follow?

Maria Sharapova.

Favourite Wimbledon moment

This one (winning the Road to Wimbledon) and all the editions I have participated in so far.

V M Sandeep.
V M Sandeep.

V M Sandeep, 14, Tamil Nadu, Winner

Favourite all-time men’s player

Roger Federer.

Who’s next after Serena Williams?

Garbiñe Muguruza.

Your favourite surface

Grass courts.

Whose style do you follow?

Novak Djokovic and Federer.

Favourite Wimbledon moment

Federer beating Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001.

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