From Jaipur to Paris: Teenage siblings win dream trip to Roland-Garros


Until the morning of the finals, siblings Fardeen and Farhat Aleen Qamar thought they were in for the familiar tournament drill. Finish match, make a call to their father to brief him of the scores, toss rackets, sweaty towels, soiled jerseys and points into over-sized bags, take the train back home to Jaipur, and pencil in plans for the next tournament.

A win or a defeat was not supposed to change their lives. Little did the teens imagine that this time, a three-week trip to Paris to watch the French Open and play alongside the world's best players awaited them.

"We couldn't believe our ears when the tournament director told us about it on the day of the finals," says Aleen, who along with elder brother Fardeen, won the girls' and boys' singles respectively in the Roland-Garros Amateur Series in Bengaluru on Sunday.

"We decided to participate in this AITA National Series for more points. But we ended up getting so much more."

Unseeded Fardeen, 17, got his title hopes soaring when he knocked out top seed Arjun Honappa in the second round while Aleen, 15, came back from a 3-6 deficit in the final against Maharashtra's S Gaware to gift herself the dream trip.

Coached by their father Qamaruddin Khan, both siblings along with elder brother Faisal help in running the tennis academy, Rajasthan Tennis Club, in the backyard of their home in Jaipur. While mornings are set aside for personal training, evening sessions are about chipping in for coaching duties.

"When they take trainees through the basics of the sport or hit with them, their own game and basics improve too," says Qamaruddin. "Also, this way they earn and pay for their own tournament and travel expenses."

How Qamaruddin himself got into tennis makes for a rather unusual story. Sitting around with six friends, all sports nuts, on a muggy evening in the old walled town of Tonk in Rajasthan 11 years ago, idle chat soon drifted to propositions of making their lives busier.

Qamaruddin then ran an auto garage and his friends worked as physical education teachers. Bored of their mundane lives, an idea of setting up a sports academy together was floated, and chits were drawn up with names of different disciplines scribbled on each. The understanding was that each man would take charge of the sport he picked at the academy.

A former national-level badminton player himself, Qamaruddin found himself staring back at the name of a sport he adored but had never played until then: Tennis.

He started taking lessons in the sport, went on to pursue a coaching certification course, and headed the tennis section at the Union Sports Academy they set up.

"Until 2007 I had never held a racket in my life. But the chit I picked turned my whole life around. Today, when I see my kids getting a chance to visit Roland-Garros it's such a proud feeling."

Two years ago, soon after Qamaruddin and his family shifted from Tonk to Jaipur, the academy closed down. He now runs one of the largest facilities in Jaipur, with seven clay courts and close to 100 trainees.

Practicing regularly on clay, Fardeen vouches, is always an advantage for them at clay court tournaments like the one which won them a Roland-Garros trip last weekend.

"It's also one surface most Indian players don't play on often," he says. "Training on clay helps you build your strength and cuts down injuries."

Qamaruddin throws in an economical advantage too: "Shoes take longer to wear out, unlike in hard courts where every month you'll end up needing a new pair. Tennis shoes don't come cheap and for us, the academy is our sole source of livelihood so it's difficult to afford a frequent change."

A slim, stretched budget has also meant that unlike their peers who have dog-eared passports to show for their journey in the sport, the siblings have never traveled to a foreign land for a tournament. They don't even have passports to begin with. It's only now after the Roland-Garros trip burst upon them that they've applied for one.

The ecstasy of visiting their temple of worship, though, is tinged with a mild sense of disappointment, as the siblings will be unable to see their idol Roger Federer in flesh and blood, after he decided to skip the entire clay court swing this year.

But they are willing to make peace with it and find joy in the rare opportunity that awaits them. "Our dream is only a few weeks away and we just can't wait to board the plane," gushes Fardeen.

For now, they're feverishly making wish-lists and rubbing their eyes in disbelief.