A wildcard allows just about anybody to feature in the main draw of a tennis event. Theoretically, it could be me, you, your uncle or my dad. Ok, that’s stretching it a bit. A lot, actually.
However, a wildcard stays the prerogative of the organising body of a tournament. In case of the Chennai Open, the wildcard has always been a contentious issue. Since former organising committee main man Vijay Amritraj kept awarding it to his own son for seven years in a row (2003-09), controversy was bound to erupt. Prakash did his dad no favours by only getting past the singles first round twice and never beyond the second.
This year too when the Chennai organisers ignored Asian Games doubles gold-medallist Sanam Singh, there were murmurs of discontent in Indian tennis circles. “Sanam was given a wildcard in 2010 and ’11 with Somdev. So, to say that he has been denied is wrong. All four players given a wildcard in doubles this year have got it purely on their performance and potential. Anyway, we are going to end this bickering once and for all from next year.
“Like the Australian Open does for Aussie players, we will also have a pre-event tournament between the top eight Indian singles players from next year. The two wildcards will go to those players who beat the others to earn them,” says Karti Chidambaram who now heads the organising committee.
The son of the Union Home Minister is often termed abrasive and brash by many involved in Indian tennis.
“I am just frank and like to talk straight, that may not go down well with some but sometimes, to get things moving, one has to be that way,” says the young administrator who is one of the most proactive in seeking change in the Indian tennis establishment.
In fact, the Tamil Nadu federation has begun an aggressive programme of support for fresh talent coming out of the region.
Take the case of 17-year-old Ram Kumar Ramanathan and Mohit Mayur Jaiprakash (18). Both come from humble backgrounds but are now training abroad courtesy the $50,000 (R27 lakh approx) a year that Karti says the TN federation will spend on each of them.
“We will spend in the vicinity of $250,000 (R 1.33 crore) over each in the next five years. I feel it is important for the kids to have the security of long-term support in order to mushroom.” He adds, “The major problem in India is that we just do not have a coach of international standard. We have to send players abroad and that costs a lot.”
Karti is also chairman of the Davis Cup committee and has been trying to get more discipline in the team.
As the feud between Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi worsened, the atmosphere in the squad has suffered.
From a time when Naresh Kumar did not allow Paes to even get his girlfriend to the 1993 tie against Australia, now even trainers have women visiting their rooms and intruding the sanctity of the space meant only for players at the venues.
Not that women should be a problem, but the above instance is just an illustration of the different mindset as far as the team goes.
Karti gave the players a piece of his mind during the last tie against Japan and impressed upon them that they had to maintain the dignity of representing the nation in both conduct and language. He is also addressing the persistent squabbling over just who should get how much prize money as part of the squad.
Karti shoots from the hip and is not afraid to take decisions which go against the entrenched forces in Indian tennis. Along the way he’s ruffled many feathers. As long as he tones down the aggression when dealing with players, he might just be the dynamic force that brings about a change for the better.