Fewyoung Nepalis take sport seriously enough to think about it as a career option. The reasons are clear-lack of opportunity, an uncertain future and remarkably little money. But 15-year-old Malika Rana has decided she wants to be a tennis star. This is no idle fantasy, she
is already beginning to realise her dreams.
Malika, a grade nine student at Shuvatara School in Lalitpur, began to play tennis rather late, just four years ago, when she was 11. "I was into swimming at first but my father inspired me to play tennis," she says. She even hopes to go to a professional tennis academy abroad.
Malika's father and coach, Manoj Rana, is one the few decent tennis players in Nepal. He was runner-up in the veteran's (over 40) singles division of the recent second King's Cup Open Tennis Championship organised by the All Nepal Lawn Tennis Association (ANLTA) in Kathmandu. His showcase at home displays dozens of cups he's won at tournaments in Nepal and overseas. And to these, young Malika is slowly adding her share.
Although Malika has not yet clinched any titles, her performance is worth keeping track of. She might well be the only Nepali to have played six tournaments at such a young age. And her career is still young. She has participated in the International Tennis Federation's Central Asian Tournament (under-14) twice, in Sri Lanka in 1998 and Pakistan in 1999, where, just two years after she began playing, she was ranked 13th among the 26 under-14
At the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association's DSCL Open Tennis Championship, formerly known as the Shriram Open Tennis Championship, in October 2000, Malika managed to serve, volley and smash all the way to the quarter finals. This championship is the largest tournament on the Indian tennis circuit. And in the second King's Cup Tennis Tournament in Kathmandu, last week, Malika faced Niana Karsolia from India (ranked 74 by the All India Tennis Association, the AITA) in the finals of both the ladies junior female singles. Karsolia's advantage was her greater experience, which she used cleverly, forcing Malika to constantly use her weaker forehand.
Malika practises for two hours everyday on weekdays and three hours on weekends. Her dad is her inspiration and coach, but she lacks tournament experience. "Players in Nepal get as little as two tournament experiences a year, while in India tournaments are held constantly. That is where the experience comes in handy," Malika acknowledges. Nepali players cannot really make up for the expense involved in going abroad, even to neighbouring countries, where they are often invited.
The ANLTA does seem to slowly be catching up, which is encouraging for players like Malika. As the turnout at the King's Cup showed, more Nepalis are being attracted to tennis. This development is as good for Malika as it will be for the future of the sport in Nepal, if this talented young player does indeed become a star.