SOMETIMES, you can tell how well. Yuki Bhambri, 16, hits the ball by closing your eyes. The sweetness of his timing can be heard in his contact. Where Bhambri, No. 1 seed in the boys' section of the Australian Open, is going to go as a player, we can't say. But what we can say is this: In the bicep-pumping, feet-flying, talent- heavy universe of tennis, he's going to need every little ounce of help he can get. Especially from Indian players, current and former.
Help has to be given without a price, help has to be given because of a love for the game.
Help is just being there for this kid, and for Somdev Devvarman, and for every other hopeful with a racket and talent. Help is pushing a sponsor Bhambri's way (he gets shoes, rackets, but no money), help is finding them coaches if they need one, help is making calls to old tennis pals for wildcards, help is a quiet word of advice.
And help, most of all, is not getting in the way.
Problem is the Indian tennis community is a small one, a gifted one, but a fractious one. It is filled with decent people, with fine knowledge, who do help, but who are also constantly jousting with each other.
Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi don't get along, which is sad, and somewhat silly, for who turns their back on greatness' But that's life. Problem is almost everyone else seems to have got pulled into this vortex.
I don't even live in India but all I hear is, he said, she said, and that most favourite of Indian sporting words: Camps. Everyone apparently has to be in one: Leander's, Mahesh's, Dravid's, Ganguly's, you know the drill.
A short while ago in the Davis Cup team, in a competition so precious to India, a revolt broke out. Former players joined in. Disrespect hovered in the air like a bad smell. My question is: How does anyone expect to win anything in an environment like this? And when sports do this, like hockey and tennis have, I wonder: Why do they blame cricket for their demise?
Everyone whips out that old cliche about having the best interests of tennis at heart. So here's one way to show it: Dial back the criticism (at which even former cricketers are too quick on the draw).
Everyone likes to pin controversies on the media, but that's way too easy. "No comment" after all takes two seconds.
Instead when Sania Mirza chose once to skip the Bangalore Open, some former players just had to say something critical. It really wasn't required.
There's work to do, remember.
Through sweat and talent, India produced gifted players almost every generation.
Ramanathan Krishnan, Naresh Kumar, Jaidip Mukherjea, Premjit Lal, Vijay and Anand Amritraj, Ramesh Krishnan, Leander Paes.
Then Bhupathi produced excellence in doubles and Sania thrashed out a pathway for women.
But fact is, India hasn't had a top 100 singles player since Paes was No. 73 in August 1998. That's over 10 years.
Isn't it time?
Will Somdev be that player, will Bhambri, will a boy not yet as high as his racket somewhere in Bharuch be that player? We don't know. But it can only come if in an individual sport, an entire community can work as a team.
Rohit Brijnath is a senior correspondent with The Straits Times.