Making a mockery of high-class infrastructure and facilities, Ajay Malik has emerged as the new national tennis champion, literally from dirt, by practising on mud courts, developed by his father on agricultural land.
At the just-concluded National Tennis Championship at the DLTA Complex, 13-year-old Ajay relied on his supreme strength and ordinary diet to win the Under-14 boys singles title.
His father, Ajmer Malik, a retired Subdedar from Indian Army, did not have even enough money to offer even bananas and energy drinks to Ajay between the breaks during his matches.
The class IX student though had enough will power and strength in his arms and legs to go full distance as he took only water during the game and set breaks en route to the title.
Ajay started playing tennis at the age of 10 and in three years he has managed to win the biggest title available in country in his age category. He is coached by his cousin Sombir Malik, who himself learnt the game by watching matches on television but quit after encountering tennis elbow issues due to practice with bald balls.
Everything at the Netaji Subash Chandra Bose Sansthan, the academy run by Ajmer, has some ‘desi jugad’ as he decided not to crib about lack of money and facilities but managed to give enough for practice to the kids.
The net for the mud courts is supported by electricity poles, which were felled due to rain and strong winds. The lines on the courts are not drawn by lime powder but by nylon ropes so that they last long and money is saved.
Tyres of different weights ranging from 5kg to 100kg are are used while running to build strength in legs and wrist strength is developed by climbing on thick ropes, dangling between two huge cement pillars. In fact, Ajmer spent nearly Rs three lakh of his Rs 13 lakh retirment fund to build the tennis courts for his son.
In this age where state-of-the-art facilities combined with scientific training is considered a pre-requisite to make a champion, the simple training methods employed by Ajmer are startling.
So how different Ajay finds the mud courts from the hard courts where he competes in tournaments.
“It’s just the colour of the court, everything else is same,” Ajay, who idolises Roger Federer and has seen only Ramkumar Ramanathan from the Indian tennis stable play, said.
Ajmer, who himself was a national level wrestler, has confidence in his training regimen but DLTA coach Arun Kumar, who has been instrumental in Ajay becoming a tennis player says the training base needs to shift in some time.
It was Arun, who gave tips to Ajay’s coach Sombir and also presented them with 50 tennis balls to start the training three years back.
“With this tough training, he definitely has developed endurance but what about speed. He is mentally tough that is why he survived on just water during nationals but he needs tactical exposure. He has right technique but you know top players finish points in 7 to 10 seconds. That’s a different training method which he would need in near future,” Arun, who has travelled as coach with many junior Indian team players, said.
Arun had also helped Ajay get a deal with Head who have now agreed to give him four racquets in a year. His father Ajmer revealed that before the final, Ajay’s racquet gut was broken and he left it to God.
“The stringer asked for 800 bucks to repair and I had only 300 rupees in my pocket. How would I have returned from Delhi to my village if I spent that money? He has only two racquets and I just prayed that nothing happens to the second one,” Ajmer said.
Ajay has two pairs of shoes and even they are not proper tennis shoes, one is used for daily practice and the other has been kept for tournaments.
The only luxury Ajay has is almond juice, made of 40 almonds, that is prepared everyday for him to be taken after practice.