By Arjun Rihan
All photographs by Arjun Rihan
I’ve been playing tennis since I can remember, and grew up hitting on the sand courts of the Poona Club in Pune, India.
The Poona Club is a private club and employs ball boys. This is a common practice at clubs in India, although it’s rare elsewhere. The ball boys also double as groundsmen for the tennis courts. Each day, they arduously and meticulously prepare the sand courts for play. I’ve known many of the ball boys since I was a kid.
Even though they look like clay courts, the topmost layer is a fine beach sand. Players can slide on it, just like clay, but the courts play a little faster and with a lower bounce. The surface favors court craft instead of pure pace or topspin, so you see a lot more touch and finesse. Drop shots, lobs, slices. Old-school tennis.
Even with constant maintenance, the courts need to be remade, from scratch, every five years. The construction of the court is a science in itself, and is spearheaded by the “marker,” or head groundsman. The marker supervises the laying of several feet of crushed rock, followed by a six-inch layer of reddish-brown, iron-rich murrum soil, and topped off with two inches of sand brought from the beaches of Goa and Gujarat.
I’ve lived away from Pune for more than 20 years, but still make the trip home nearly every year, and one of the highlights is visiting the courts and catching up with the ball boys. Over the years we’ve formed friendships, and I look forward to trading updates and tennis tips with them. And, of course, the sand is always immaculate and ready for play, thanks to the work of this incredible team.