Someone in the tennis federation finally decided to gird up his loins and make a call that's been long overdue. Whatever the various committees with fancy nomenclature announce - on Tuesday it was the Davis Cup selection - the Indian tennis association runs largely to the will of one man. So, it was Anil Khanna, the secretary of AITA, who called up Mahesh Bhupathi and told him that he does not figure in the plans for India's Davis Cup tie against Uzbekistan this April.
Apparently, henceforth, the lowest-ranked doubles specialist will sit out as India finally choose to field two singles players. Sanam Singh (24) and Yuki Bhambri (19) are interesting. Both have attitude; both hold promise. The presence of Rohan Bopanna allows for the three-singles options and that's been far denied in the Indian team.
India's Davis Cup selection has been largely conservative due to the abysmal crop of players that have been coming out of the system. One can hardly be talking about blooding young talent when the rookies fail to stay injury-free or fan their spark. The infrastructure is there, parents are throwing away as much as R50,000 a month to train their presumably-talented 14-year-olds and India also has a basic tournament structure in place.
But all the fancy equipment and money can't make up for lack of brains. Let's face it - the majority of our tennis coaches are conmen. Most of them are clueless about off-court training. In fact, even when it comes to scanning the names of all the coaches that accompany various Indian senior and junior teams, it becomes quite an effort to figure out which one of them has actually produced a quasi-world-class player.
The ironic bit is that, for the future, India's hopes will rest on two men who were also journeymen talents till they went through the grind of the tennis programme in the University of Virginia. Somdev Devvarman and Sanam Singh both appeared to be clueless in the national federation's training scheme (the demerits of these harebrained ventures are too tedious to list again).
Getting it right
Abroad, they figured the basics. Apart from the rapier playing style that he has now developed, Sanam is also looking to replicate one crucial aspect of his senior friend's tennis arsenal - his legs. Just how hard he trains away from the court will dictate how long he retains his spot in the Cup squad.
His brilliant tennis head apart, Bhambri's legs worry this writer. So do those of Vishnu Vardhan (24), who is the reserve. Both were out of steam in their matches against the big boys of the pro tour at the Chennai Open early January. If the Indian federation is actually serious about grooming the next lot of Davis Cup singles players then they have to figure how to get a world-class trainer for these fellows.
Now that the vexing question of tiptoeing around the egos of our doubles topcats has been addressed, it's time for the next elephant in the room. Who's going to ask the captain, SP Misra, to either get more discipline in the squad or make way for someone nastier than him? The gentleman that he is, Misra has been too gentle and that may not be the best way to be when it comes to nurturing a fresh new squad for the future.