Even as India's search for a singles Grand Slam champion continues, Mahesh Bhupathi and Apollo Tyres took a little step forward by identifying and sifting tennis talent across the country.
The month-long Apollo Tyres Mission 2018 reached its finale in New Delhi on Sunday, with the announcement of the recipients of the first batch of scholarships.
The final 15 were selected from a total of 32 children who had qualified for the national level rounds from the four zonal camps held through the month in Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi. The last round of selections involved multiple sessions of skill, fitness and agility tests.
The talent hunt attracted a cross section of children, a testament to the growing popularity of the sport, which was once restricted to elite club-going metropolitan families.
Among the chosen kids is Mohammed Azhar from Kolkata, who stunned the panellists with his skill and the sheer will to excel. The 12-year-old Azhar is son of a housewife mother and a father who earns a living by doing embroidery on carpets.
"It's been an amazing journey," said 10-time Grand Slam champion Bhupathi.
"It's a tremendous opportunity that is being created here. Parents like mine have been able to take the hard work and expenses that are required in a sport like tennis, but not everyone is that fortunate.
"I hope more companies will come forward to groom talent in India. It's the real young ones, in the age group of six to 10 years, who have been the most impressive. This has been a fabulous experience and I am looking forward to next year."
Apollo Tyres has made a commitment of Rs. 100 crores on the project that will run for the next 11 years.
While the selections took place only in the four major cities in the country, the organisers said that a lot the partcipants had traveled from far-away places to have a go at the opportunity.
"It's a starting point," Bhupathi had said during the Mumbai-leg of the event. "There are people who have traveled a lot and spent a lot of money to come here. I am sure we will take the competition to the grass roots in the coming years.\
"But if some people think its too expensive or not worth the effort, too bad. It should be a give and take relationship."
The chosen 15 children will begin their lives at the Bhupathi Tennis Village in Bangalore after their year-end exams.
After two months of training there, they will proceed to Le Centre d'Expertise de la Performance in Dijon, France, for physical strength and conditioning assessments.
From there they will join the European Juniors Tour, returning home in August, before debuting on the domestic circuit with the National Tournaments.
To ensure that the remaining 17 children, who qualified for the penultimate round of selections, have a better chance of qualifying next year, Neeraj Kanwar, Joint MD & COO, Apollo Tyres Ltd, and Bhupathi took an on-the-spot decision to create a special training scholarship.
This fund will provide these children with a two-week, all-expenses paid training and coaching session at the Bhupathi Tennis Village, where, under the guidance of CGK Bhupathi, they will work on a future course of action.
Following is the list of kids selected for the scholarships:
Dhruti Venugopal, age 10. Resident of Mysore. Studies in Class VI, Ideal Java Rotary School.
Spoorti Shivalingiah, age 12. Resident of Bangalore. Studies in Class VII, Delhi Public School.
Sansita Nandakumar, age 12. Resident of Koentour. Studies in Class VII, Vidya Niketan School.
Sheikh Abdullah, age 12. Resident of Hyderabad
Nandini Das, age 8. Resident of Navi Mumbai. Studies in Class III, Father Agnel School
Romil Kamdar, age 9. Resident of Mumbai. Studies in Class IV, P G Garodia School
Sneha Reddy, age 10. Resident of Mumbai. Studies in Class VI, Raj Hans Vidyalaya
Rohan Bhatia, age 12. Resident of Nasik. Studies in Class VIII, Fravashi International School
Seulee Upadhayaya, age 11. Resident of Paradeep. Studies in Class VI, Bethany Convent School
Mohammad Azhar, age 12. Resident of Kolkata and selected from the Kolkata camp. Studies in Class V, Safee Hall School
Rohan Mehra, age 5+ -- the youngest child in the entire group. Studies in Kindergarten, Delhi Public School, East of Kailash
Jennifer Luikham, age 8. Resident of Delhi. Studies in Class III, Heritage School
Sumit Nagpal, age 10. Resident of Nangloi. Studies in Class VI, RKPV Paschim Vihar
Simran Kaur Sethi, age 11. Resident of Delhi. Studies in Class VI, DPS R K Puram
Saurabh Singh, age 14. Resident of Delhi. Studies in Kendriya Vidyalaya, R K Puram