Nepal’s tennis shines in Covid times

Cesar Morales after training with Nepali team. Photo: CESAR MORALES

When Aarav Samrat Hada and Aki Zuben Rawat won the boys’ doubles title in the ITF J5 Juniors Tennis Championships in Pakistan last week, it hardly made to the news in Nepal and went largely unnoticed. 

Unseeded Hada and Rawat overcame home grown top ranked pair of Muhammad Shoaib and Ahmed Kamil in a three-set final. On the girls’ side, Nepal’s Abhilasha Bista paired up with Russian Arina Valitova to lift the doubles title. The 17-years-old Bista also made it to the girls single finals before she was beaten by her doubles partner. 

This was the first International Tennis Federation (ITF) title win for Nepali’s boys outside home soil, and also for the girls double category. The Nepali juniors were up against players from Japan, Pakistan, Estonia, Russian and Ukraine, among others in the tournament.

The only other ITF win for Nepal in juniors came earlier this year in February when Prerana Koirala won the girls' singles title in the tournament held in Pokhara.

These notable achievements for Nepal’s junior tennis comes at the time of Covid-19 global pandemic and it is not a coincidence, says Cesar Morales, one of the three coaches training the Nepali team.

The lockdowns and restriction actually afforded the young players time to regroup and focus on tennis like never before, especially with no physical schools to attend for over nine months. 

Presently, 15 players from 8-18 years are training six hours a day six days a week in Satdobato tennis complex in Kathmandu, working on all aspects of their game.

Tennis twins, Sonia Awale

Aarav Samrat Hada, Abhilasha Bista and Aki Zuben Rawat pose with their trophies after their wins in Pakistan last week. Photo courtesy: CESAR MORALES

“Until now Nepal has never had a pro-level program for tennis, it was up to the parents and children to take it further,” says Morales. “The pandemic has been a blessing in disguise, it has given us an opportunity to develop professional program at home.” 

Morales himself has been stranded in Nepal since the first nationwide lockdown was imposed on 24 March and has since used the time to first train the players virtually via zoom and by posting YouTube tutorials on backhand and forehand strokes from his rooftop in Satdobato. He restarted physical training after the lockdown and restrictions were lifted.

Morales was originally invited for a few weeks back in March to train Nepali tennis players preparing for the forthcoming regional championships and the Olympics. He was supposed to travel to Spain and Italy before flying home to Chicago. 

But he chose to stay back instead of taking a repatriation flight because of the risks involved while the pandemic was raging in Spain and the United States, while Nepal was still relatively safe. He would have multiple layovers on the way home to Chicago.

This has worked in the favour of Nepali players who have had a coach working on both the physical and mental side of their game for the past nine months. And the hard work has paid off, both boys and girls performed exceptionally in Pakistan last week and the team can only get better from here with the right platform, equipment and relentless training.

Love at first strike, Sraddha Basnyat

The Covid-19 pandemic has also allowed arguably for the first time the parents to think about sports as a genuine career for their children unlike in the past when the focus was always on school and academic excellence. 

The lockdown and restrictions meant that classes are online and it has freed up time for students to train but also proved that young players can take up tennis while also juggling their courses through quality virtual education, says Morales who has also been working closely with parents who he has found to be very supportive.

But Morales has to leave Kathmandu and get back to his European players. His time in Nepal has been marked with great uncertainty given the coronavirus crisis but it was used to the fullest to strengthen Nepali tennis team which will likely have a long term impact going ahead. 

Says Morales: “What we have achieved here despite such a difficult circumstance makes this only sweeter. When our players lifted their titles, it was possibly the proudest moment of my life.” 

A tennis journey, Sujay Lama

Sonia Awale


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