Romancing tennis on a 22-yard pitch

Kirti Patil
Saturday, 9 February 2019

Prajwal Hegde, sports journalist by profession and tennis writer by choice, has covered  best of tennis — from the Mecca of the sport Wimbledon to Down Under in Melbourne. She strings together a novel, a genre that none of her ilk has attempted yet

Cricket falls in love with tennis and their story blossoms into a full blown romance that the families of both protagonists are totally opposed to. The fast-paced story unfolds through tennis’ best destinations where Arya Ashok travels on the Tour and bowling all-rounder Arvind Ram follows her despite his busy schedule as the key player of the Indian national team.

Going by the first look at the cover and given that the storyline revolves around a woman tennis player and male cricketer, the first impression one gets about What’s Good About Falling is that it is based on Sania Mirza-Shoaib Malik story. Answers sports journalist-writer Prajwal Hegde, “The most common response to the book is ‘Is it Sania and Shoaib’s story?’ But anyone who has read the book will know that the answer to that is ‘no’. But having said that, there are moments from the lives of athletes that have stirred the storyteller in me — little incidents, great triumphs, fighting physical exhaustion, zero to hero tales, an ascent, an exchange. These set you thinking, and before you know it, you have a scene for your novel.” 

Hegde was categorical when the idea of penning a book was tossed at her. “I always wanted to write love stories. I didn’t think of a sports romance at first, but I guess, in a sense, it was always in me,” says she. 

She adds, “I had another book in mind, nothing to do with sport. But my literary agent Priya Doraswamy thought my first book should be related to tennis in some way because it’s probably what I know best. That’s how What’s Good About Falling came to be.”

The characters, says the author, “are imaginary.” “My imagination ran, weaving a story from all that I had seen and experienced in my travels, seeing world class athletes performing up close. It wasn’t difficult at all because Arya and Arvind have been my long-time travel companions,” she says.

The story starts from Wimbledon where Arya becomes the first Indian individual player to reach quarter finals. The way she loses her big match has the international media dubbing her the ‘games’s most famous quarter-finalist’. Arvind is there in the stands to watch her with his teammates. He then decides to stay on and thus begins the romantic journey.

Arvind is two years younger to Arya and is the biggest new name in world cricket. He rose to the ranks braving a difficult childhood and is now enjoying great success on the field. One incidence of his indiscretion leads to a last-ball winning sixer and India loses to Pakistan in Dubai. And their world falls apart without a reason. Or so thinks Arya.

Arvind decides to keep aloof and the media frenzy begins about the status of their relationship. On Twitter, she is blamed for India’s loss with fans using crass language and Arvind  finds himself in a situation he never imagined. The story is woven well despite Hegde proclaiming in her acknowledgment in the book — “I dithered, I didn’t want to do sport…I had exhausted my words on that.”

Asked if she has more novels coming, the sports journalist says, “I hope to do a tennis book, somewhere down the line. I know what it will be, it’s not a biography. I’ll start working on it in a year or two maybe. Hopefully, I have another sports romance in me. The more I think of it, I feel not enough has been done on this subject. It’s certainly a genre worth exploring. We’ve not had many books or movies on this line, but as India is showing signs, even if early, of gaining a sporting culture, it has the promise of a cult following.”

Hegde’s creation is a break from what has otherwise become a tradition. “It is common for journalists to write books, but most have written on topics they deal with on a daily basis where duty takes them. I just wanted to do something different. I wanted to tell a story, a love story, but also an inspiring story, that deals with success and failure, the struggle in realising your full potential. The fear of facing up to being good, but not good enough. In doing that, I wanted to take sports to the people who’re not inclined towards it because it is only another expression of life. I wanted to romance the reader who wasn’t into sports. It’s a different kind of challenge,” she points out. 

Being a tennis writer, the author had plenty of scenes from What’s Good About Falling set in the iconic greens of Wimbledon and the South-West District of London. Arya’s doting family travels with her everywhere — sometimes father Arun and Sheela together, or her elder sister Pooja whom she calls her second mom. Arvind, on the other hand, is from a middle class family and scared of losing what he has achieved through hard work, dedication and strict fitness regime. 

The plot is interesting enough, which makes the book unputdownable. The books has been published by HarperCollins.

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