Nandan Bal: A tennis star, coach and mentor all rolled into one - The Daily Guardian
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Nandan Bal: A tennis star, coach and mentor all rolled into one

‘Every award and honour comes with a responsibility attached to it,’ Nandan Bal tells The Daily Guardian after being nominated for Dhyan Chand Award for ‘Lifetime Achievement in Sports and Games’.

Hemanshu Chaturvedi



Senior tennis player Nandan Bal has been nominated for India’s most prestigious Dhyan Chand Award for ‘Lifetime Achievement in Sports and Games’. It is indeed rare that a good player of high calibre is also a good coach and a mentor as well. And Nandan Bal has all the qualities rolled into one. Be it a Davis Cup or a grassroots player, he has worked with them with the same zeal. It is wonderful to see a great player being recognised for his dedication towards the game of tennis.

The Daily Guardian spoke with him on his journey from being a “player to a coach” who has been nominated for the prestigious Dhyan Chand Award for 2020. Excerpts:

Q. How exciting was it for you and your family to hear about the nomination for this prestigious award?

A. My friends and wellwishers greeted me with the message that it has come little late in the day but finally I have been honoured. I was shortlisted at least a couple of times in 2008-09 for the Dronacharya Award but was not lucky to get it. Q.

 Was Tennis a choice or did it come to you incidentally?

A. My father used to work for LIC and he was posted in a small place called Parbhani (Maharashtra). Since it was not a family station, we used to visit our father during summer vacations. As a child, during vacations I used to eat a lot of mangoes, and subsequently I had put on a lot of weight. In 1971, when I went to my father during summer vacation, he asked me to accompany him to the Officer’s Club to play tennis for my fitness. Tennis was introduced to me more for a health reason as it is normally a case with most Indian children going for sporting activities

Q. To whom do you give credit for your professional tennis journey?

A. Dr G.A. Ranade, who was nicknamed “human bulldozer” and pioneered tennis of Pune, was my “godfather”. Dr Ranade was the man who spotted my talent and discussed with my father to put me into serious tennis. My father being a normal middle class person had apprehension about funding me for tennis but Dr Ranade did everything for me including sending me abroad for tennis.

Q. Were your parents supportive of you in your journey to your being a professional tennis player?

A. My father, Purushottam Bal, popularly known as Vasant Bal, was a state and university level tennis player and my mother, Manik Bal, was a renowned national level badminton player. So sports ran naturally in the family and my father discussed with me about my future and clearly told me that he would not have lots of finances left for me in case I didn’t succeed in tennis. The choice was totally left to me with the support of my father and his friend, George Vasant (father of Mayur Vasant) .

Q. What was the turning point of your tennis career?

A. In 1976 I had a chance to meet Welby Van Horn in the US, who was at that time among the top 4 coaches in the world. Since I could not have afforded the cost of coaching in the US, I would coach and get coached. I can claim that the seeds of becoming a coach were sown in me in my playing days only. I went to Horn’s Academy for 7 years and finally in 1986-87 when I had decided to hang my boots, I had my final “Teach The Teacher Program” with Horn. Frankly, I never had a formal tennis degree to teach apart from “hands on” training with the Horn academy.

Q. Every player has best moments or memories of their playing days, what was your best tennis moment?

A. I had two best moments of my life. One was 1978 playing finals of World University Games which probably was the first time India made the cut in the final. My second best moment was in 1979 when I was playing the final qualifying round of Men’s Wimbledon where I was 2-1 up in sets with a break in the fourth game but I lost the match in 5 sets to Sean Sorensen of Ireland. The winner of our match was to play in the main draw on the centre court of Wimbledon against the tennis sensation Bjorn Borg. I still miss that opportunity of my life.

Q. Would the award bring any change in Nandan Bal’s life?

A. Every award and honour comes with a responsibility attached to it. I think from now onwards I will have more dedication towards the game than before as the award is conferred on me as a rare one in the field of Tennis.

Q. What would be your message to the young coaches of our country?

A. I am very hopeful that in the next 4 to 5 years India will produce 3-4 players in the top 50 in men’s ranking of the world. Need of the hour for our young coaches is: “Don’t chase money but be a good teacher, don’t compromise on your principles and you will see more trainees coming to you which would ultimately give you name, fame and money.”

Q. Finally, I believe one of your daughters has already stepped into your shoes. Please throw some light on the legacy of Nandan Bal.

A. I have two daughters and the younger one has taken to tennis coaching. She has recently been nominated as the U-16 Fed Cup coach. She is also assisting me in my Tennis Academy. My wife Sheela is an MBA in Finance and my elder daughter has chosen to be in that field and she is an engineer having double Master’s degree from Cornell University, US. I leave it entirely on my daughters to be in tennis as long as they want to be. I am thankful to tennis for giving me the best in life and I cannot imagine my life beyond 78’x36’. I thank my parents, family, well-wishers, colleagues for encouraging me to be part of the tennis history of my country.

The writer is a sports guru.

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