Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros: India turns its attentions to clay
"Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros in partnership with Longines" stopped off in Delhi, India from 19 – 22 April, where Siddhant Banthia and Malikaa Marathe followed in the footsteps of last year’s winners, Adil Kalyanpur and Mahak Jain, and booked their tickets for Paris to take part in the final phase, where they can hope to win a wild card for the main draw of the French Open junior singles.
Malikaa Marathe is living the dream. The 13-year-old from Pune had never even taken part in an ITF tournament before entering the qualifiers for the final phase of the national tournament at her home club, Pune Young Cricketers’ Hindu Gymkhana. Marathe regularly practises on clay and certainly created an impression throughout proceedings, winning her way through first to the qualifying phase in Pune, and then to the national final phase in Delhi.
With Arantxa Sanchez, French Open champion in 1989, 1994 and 1998 and ambassador of the Indian leg of the tournament, watching on, Marathe was seeded second and lived up to her billing on the two clay courts of the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (laid two years ago as part of a partnership between the All Indian Tennis Association and the French Tennis Federation). She went all the way through to the final, where she was never in any danger against Yubrani Banerjee, winning 6-1, 6-3 and securing her trip to Roland-Garros. "It’s great to have qualified for the final phase. I hope I can carry on this run of form all the way to Paris," she said after the final.
In the boys’ tournament, another PYC player emerged victorious, having won through from the qualifying event in Pune (one of two sets of qualifiers, the other being in Kolkata). Siddhant Banthia is No.70 in the ITF world junior ranking and the top Indian in his age group. He shrugged off the 43°C heat to make it through to the final, where he swept Abhimanyu Vannemreddy aside 6-0, 6-1. "Playing here was an incredible experience, and I hope that I will go on to win the wild card for Roland-Garros at the final phase in Paris," said Banthia, before heading off to Casablanca in Morocco, where he was going to practice and play in a number of ITF tournaments before heading to the French capital.
"Clay is the best surface to learn on"
Arantxa Sanchez was on hand throughout the week, and hit a few rallies with the youngsters playing in the tournament as well as giving them some words of encouragement. "I was never the best, technically or physically," the Spaniard said as she awarded the Paris tickets to the winners, "but I was the one who wanted it most out on court, and I never gave an inch. It’s that little bit of extra guts, I think, that made me more than just an average player and turned me into a Grand Slam winner."
She also remarked on the development of tennis on red dirt in India, saying: "The tournament has been played on brand new clay courts which is very good news. It is great that India is investing in what has always been and continues to be my favourite surface. It’s the best one to learn on, and I hope that we will be seeing the top Indian players proving their worth very soon on clay."