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Padel pulse: young Nepalese pair stirring up circuit

Padel pulse: young Nepalese pair stirring up circuit
27 May 2024 10:01


Padel tennis has been growing over the past couple of years in the UAE, a country that promotes sports like no other and has a population dominated by expatriates. Yet, a club in Abu Dhabi and a young Nepalese pair are symbols of how inclusion and the spirit of sportsmanship can be a winning formula. Rojesh Rajbhans and Mintuk Tamang are more prominently known on the padel circuit of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah as Yong and Sajit, especially in Mussafah around their current place of work at Amigos Padel Club.

But it can be safely said that they are known as natural athletes adept at winning rather more than their country of origin or the fact that both work waiter and/or receptionist jobs when not playing. And then some more people got to know about them at the end of the three-day Mashreq Padel Tour tournament at the Padel Plus Academy, down the road in the satellite town, where Yong and Sajit won the men’s main prize of Dh4,000.

They beat Qasem and Fares Al Sharafi in a one-sided final 6-3, 6-4. The women’s winners were Anastasiia Ryzhova and Elizabeth Hernandez who were stretched by Janice Tilbrook and Agnes Isabelle before prevailing 6-1, 6-7, 7-6.

The prize amount may be secondary, but it also proved consolation after the duo missed out at the Asia Pacific Padel Tour in Phuket, Thailand – their first international playing trip in about a year since taking up the sport. That trip too materialised because Emirati players, padel regulars at Amigos and the owners themselves chipped in to fund their trip and competition costs.

“We represented both UAE and Nepal. That’s why we had two national flags on each sleeve of our shirts and one of Nepal on the chest,” said Sajit, the senior of the two first cousins by three years. The shirt was symbolically apt. Yet, it was the younger Yong, 21, and shorter of the two, who took up the sport first. And despite no knowledge, formal training and fitness drills before each game to date, Yong took to the sport like fish to water at another club in Mussafah first before moving to Amigos, who have four brothers and a brother-in-law as owners.

“I used to play football, casually, back home. My father used to own a cinema, but then we fell on to bad times and there were issues over property inheritance, too. So, I took up a waiter’s job there in Nepal. Then I applied here and joined as waiter-cum-receptionist at a club in Mussafah,” said Yong.

He did not know about the sport at all and says he is pretty sure there is no padel in Nepal. His native place is close to the border of India and can speak in Hindi.

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The sport of padel can be expensive like its original cousin tennis, but being part of the infrastructure helped Yong.

Mostly a doubles-based format, a game requires four players – that also helps cover the cost of court rentals – and there is demand for a good player partner who can fill in vacancies and from whom novices can learn.

Yong happens to be at the right place and right time. But it also can mean long hours after his shift of eight hours.

“That’s all right. I have got great owners who give me a share of commission, and I could do with the money."

“My owners have been great support. When we play tournaments, they chip in with the entry fees. Like when we heard of the Asia Pacific, and friends encouraged us to take part, they [the owners] contributed. Some regulars here also pooled in, and we got the Dh10,000 we wanted that covered the flight, stay and tournament fees.”

The pair played on outdoor courts in Phuket while they had only played indoors. Both still reconcile with the fact that their winning opponents were top quality as they went on to win the Thailand leg.

Just like Yong completes the pair for many on daily basis, Sajit came along just like that. Not soon after Yong came to the UAE from Nepal in 2021, Sajit arrived from Qatar, where he worked as a waiter at a Pizza place. Even though he was witness to Yong’s rise, he still was hesistant to try it out.

“Everyone would come and tell me how good he plays, for a year or so. But then he started taking part in tournaments and winning, I gave it a shot. Now I like the sport so much that I don’t think I will play anything else,” says the taller partner, who played basketball in Nepal during his school years.

While in conversation, Mohammed Abdalla Altamash, the brother-in-law and co-owner of Amigos, reached the club for a practice session with the Spanish coach at the club.

“Padel tennis was trending very high in the COVID period but now the numbers are dwindling. But of course, when these boys [the Nepalese] want to go to places to play, we give them paid leave and other things helpful in whatever way we can. It also helps us to promote our facilities here, which are of the highest standards.”

Time will tell how much impact the Nepalese have made, but for now, the boys from Abu Dhabi have lit up the torch for the sport.

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