Divij Sharan reveals changes to tennis on return to competitive court action

Following strict protocols amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the doubles pair Divij Sharan and Vijay Sundar Prashanth took part in Lawn Tennis Association's British Tour.

Indian tennis player Divij Sharan got the first taste of competitive tennis in four months when he took part in a Lawn Tennis Association’s British Tour event series in London on Sunday.

The event was played at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, about six kilometres from Wimbledon's All England Club.

Sharan partnered compatriot Vijay Sundar Prashanth, both of whom stay in the UK, in the doubles and played three matches at short intervals in the shorter 'Fast4' format for the first time in his career.

The duo, admittedly rusty, lost the first match 1-4, 4-1, [7-10] against the British pair of Charles Broom and David Stevenson in the super tie-break but went on to win their next two.

Against Ben Jones and Joshua Paris, Sharan-Prashanth won 2-4, 4-1, [10-8] while they got the better of Jack Gibbens and Isaac Stoute 4-1, 4-1 in straight sets.

The Indian pair finished fifth out of eight teams but more than the result, it was about getting back on the court and competing that mattered for Divij Sharan.

"We were a bit rusty in the beginning. Towards the end of the third match, I was feeling my body a little bit because we usually don't play three matches in a day. But it was great to go out there and compete," Divij Sharan told Firstpost.

Different game amid the pandemic

While the lockdown has been easing in Europe, strict safety measures and protocols were in place at the National Tennis Centre. 

COVID-19 tests were done for everyone, two days prior to their matches, temperatures were checked at the entrance and social distancing was maintained throughout the venue.

Wearing masks were made mandatory at all times except when on the court. Each tie was restricted to a single set of balls, and handshakes and first bumps were disallowed with celebrations restricted to tapping racquets. 

Practice, too, was limited as the courts had to be washed after every session. The matches took place without ball boys or a linesman and with just the chair umpire at the closed event.

“As doubles players when we’re speaking to each other, you end up covering your mouth so opponents can’t catch what you’re saying,” Divij Sharan elaborated. “They strongly said you shouldn’t be doing that.

“I don’t have an issue there because I use my forearm to block what I’m saying. Vijay is used to speaking into the balls, so the umpire had to remind him a few times (to avoid breathing into them). 

“I guess it was a bit different, but I think everybody sort of eased into it as matches went on."

Divij Sharan and Vijay Sundar Prashanth aren't the first Indian tennis players to hit the court during the pandemic.

Last month Sumit Nagal made a winning return to the court at the PSD Bank Nord Open in Germany.

"It felt strange - at this time of the year, I would have been playing at the Wimbledon," Sharan told The Week website. “It’s my favourite tournament but here I was playing domestic events. I miss playing at Wimbledon.”

This year’s Wimbledon was scheduled between June 29 and July 12 but was cancelled, for the first time since 1945, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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