Kottayam: George Thomas found the sweet spot of his life in a tennis court when he was young and at 70 he stays there wielding a winner’s racquet. The septuagenarian based in Kerala's Kottayam has emerged as the No.1-ranked Indian player on the ITF (International Tennis Federation) seniors tour.
George started playing on the ITF seniors tour since 2019 in the 65+ category. He has worked his way up to reach no. 1 rank in the 70+ age group at the national level and a world rank of 58. With his singles and doubles ranking points he is hopeful of representing India in the 2024 ITF World Championship likely to be held in Europe.
George has been chasing the passion of his life after a long and successful career as an engineer with multinational hotel chains in various Gulf countries. At Kottayam, where he lives with his family, he trains at the Rama Varma Union Club. He has won many championships in the Middle East as well as in Kerala.
From football to tennis
George hails from Vennikkulam in Pathanamthitta and he used to play football when he was a student. He continued his tryst with football even after he moved to Bombay (now Mumbai) for his higher studies. He worked there for sometime before moving to hotel industry in the Gulf way back in 1976. He played football for an Indian club in the Gulf also.
His interest shifted to tennis by 1980 as he got inspired after watching Indian tennis legends Vijay Amritraj and Anand Amritraj on the courts in the Gulf.
“I was inspired by the way they played the game and I went for some coaching in tennis. I took up the racquet when I was in Bahrain. From there I went on to work in Oman, Dubai, Ethiopia and Fujairah. Somewhere in between, I went down in my game. After retirement, I chose to stay in Kottayam to continue my practice,” an energetic George told Onmanorama.
He is also a USNTA (United States National Tennis Academy) and AITA (All India Tennis Association) certified coach and is currently the senior coach for tennis and squash at ATLETO Sports in Kottayam. He has coached many young players, including his daughter Simi Thomas who was a national champion in Bahrain.
At Ramavarma Club, George practices everyday from 5.30 pm to 8 pm. The southpaw said regular practice is the major factor behind his fitness. “I also participate in mini-marathons because running is very important to stay fit. I do some upper body exercises too. My coaching sessions also help,” he said.
A true sportsman, he is of the view that a society should build more playgrounds than super specialty hospitals.
George has won ITF tournaments held in Vijayawada, Jhajjar, Jaipur, Darjeeling, Sholapur, Bhilai, Jalandhar, Pune, Delhi and Indore this year and he is gearing up for the next round of matches in Mumbai in December.
Serbian legend Novak Djokovic is his favourite player. "He is 36 and he has been maintaining world No. 1 position for more than 400 weeks. What else do you want,” George asks, not hiding a fanboy’s enthusiasm.