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After his failed dope test, Aryaan Bhatia gets a second serve

No Harm, No Foul: 16-yr-old national tennis player talks about fighting mental breakdowns

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After his failed dope test, Aryaan Bhatia gets a second serve
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    In January this year, 16-year-old Aryaan Bhatia had the unpleasant distinction of being the first tennis player in India to fail a dope test, facing a provisional suspension that threatened to hit the brakes on a promising career.

    Last week, that threat was neutralised as the National Anti Doping Agency's disciplinary panel reduced the suspension to a reprimand after the family filed an appeal, ruling that the minor did not 'intentionally' take the prohibited substances.

    In the intervening five months, however, the Mumbai lad had to live with sport's most dreaded tag, leading to bouts of mental breakdown that required constant care from his family, coaches, and well-wishers.

    The nightmare began in October last year when he tested positive for banned substances during the Fenesta Open National Tennis Championship in New Delhi.

    It has now been established that the prohibited substances came from a tablet prescribed by his family physician to ease his sore throat and neck pain before the tournament.

    Neither the doctor nor Aryaan was aware that the Rs 12 tablet would almost cost him his tennis career.

    "When the news came out in February and it was everywhere in the papers, I asked my mom, 'What's happening? Do you think I will never play tennis again?' I had a lot of thoughts going around in my mind at that time," Aryaan, who won silver in the boys singles 2019 Khelo India Youth Games before he knew about the suspension, said.

    It was accompanied by periods of frustration that his mother Zeenat Bhatia and father Ajay Bhatia had to deal with.

    "We had our crying sessions almost every night. We did think of taking him to a psychologist, but both my husband and I decided to be with him 24x7. His teachers and coaches also constantly spoke to him," Zeenat said.

    Besides his coach Nandan Bal and uncle Asif Ismail, both former David Cup players, the list of people trying to keep the mentally sinking boy afloat included the legendary Leander Paes and his father, Dr Vece Paes.

    "Even Leander spoke to him once. He sat him down and said, 'Boss, this is going to make you really tough. Just don't look back, make yourself stronger with this'," Zeenat said.

    The mother recalls one particular night when Aryaan simply couldn't control his emotions.

    "Late one night, he kept yelling that his life has ended. We asked one of his travel coaches to come over and he took him for a drive, where they spoke over ice-creams and calmed things down," Zeenat said.

    Yet, deep down, the Rizvi College boy was confident that the dark clouds around him would clear, and he began using the time away from the game in improving his fitness, skills, and academics.

    "I knew that one day, there's going to be a time when I'm going to be out of all this. I didn't want to look back and say that I wasted it. I thought I'd rather work a lot right now and when my time came, I wanted to be ready again," Aryaan said.

    His eyes are now set on winning this year's National Championship, which was the starting point of his forgettable journey. "I want to go back to where it all happened, prove a point and win it," Aryaan said.

    An Honest ‘Fault’

    • National player Aryaan Bhatia was handed a provision suspension by NADA in January this year for failing a dope test during the Fenesta Open National Tennis Championship in October last year 
    • Having filed an appeal, the Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel ruled that there was ‘no significant fault or negligence’ 
    • He took a medicine prescribed by his family doctor to cure ‘acute laryngitis and pharyngitis’
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