Guwahati, Jan 22: Somdev Devvarman is the new sports icon in the Northeast and his success has resulted in many youngsters looking eagerly to wards the tennis court.
The Northeast, Manipur in particular, has given the country many top footballers, weightlifters, boxers, archers and hockey players who enjoy cult status in the region.
But only a few from the region - like MC Mary Kom and Somdev in recent times - have managed to hit all-India headlines. Somdev's success story will further inspire the youngsters of Northeast to make a mark in the sporting arena.
"Tennis might not be a very popular game in Tripura but it was played here from the time of the kings. Now, suddenly there is beeline of youngsters at the tennis courts, all aspiring to become a Somdev. The hype is huge. Somdev has become a household name now. The problem is we do not have so many proper tennis courts. There are only three courts in Tripura," said Sujit Roy, general secretary of Tripura Tennis Association.
Boxing star MC Mary Kom said that Somdev's success has indeed given the people of Northeast a reason to be happy, and a reason to hope for more success.
"It's a great feeling to see Somdev's big leap in the world of tennis. It's a matter of pride for the country, particularly the Northeast," said Mary Kom, who recently grabbed her fourth World women's boxing championship gold in a row.
Mary Kom said the people of Northeast are natural athletes - very skillful - and have a strong determination to succeed. "If good sports infrastructure and equipment are provided to this region the world will come to know of our unique sporting talent," she said.
Somdev's Chennai success has had a great impact in the Northeast on two counts, according to secretary of All Assam Tennis Association, Raktim Saikia.
Saikia says that the popular belief that only tall and well-built players are successful is tennis has been proved wrong as Somdev has the average features and built of a Northeast boy.
Besides, Somdev has managed to strike a perfect balance studies and sport. He played junior Grand Slam in 2004 when he was doing his schooling at Chennai.
He then went to US to complete his graduation from Virginia University and at the same improved his skills there. The four-year stay in US changed his game and he turned professional once he completed his studies.
Saikia feels that Somdev's achievement will surely inspire young tennis players of the region. "Northeast children have the ability to take up any sport. What they require now is the right technical coaching. If we can provide this, our boys can achieve greater heights," Saikia argued.
International-level tennis infrastructure is already in place in Guwahati, which has successfully hosted the ITF World ranking junior tournament the past two years. What the region lacks is qualified coaches.
Bhogen Singh, secretary of Manipur Tennis Association, shared Saikia's view. He said that Manipuri tennis players are doing well in tournaments recognized by All India Tennis Association. "Their skills can be enhanced if we have good infrastructure, equipment and coaches."