As the national tennis squad for the Incheon Asian Games was announced in the capital on Saturday, it caused a furore in Chennai. Why? The senior selection committee of the All India Tennis Association named Sanam Singh (world No 400) and Saketh Myneni (world No 416) in the six-member squad, ignoring three higher ranked players – Ramkumar Ramanathan (304), Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan (307) and N Sriram Balaji (377). It’s well known that Tamil Nadu Tennis Association (TNTA) - the three come from the state - and the AITA have been at loggerheads for a while. “It’s unfair that India’s third, fourth and fifth best players have been ignored but the sixth and seventh best have been included,” fumed TNTA vice-president Karti P Chidambaram. “It’s discrimination. Somdev (Devvarman) is No 1 (No 132) and then comes Yuki Bhambri (No 151), but how can they select two players who are ranked lower? The last time when a TNTA boy wasn’t picked, the selection committee said it had gone by the rankings. On what basis have this selection been done?”
Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna are the doubles specialists. In January, the 40-year-old had made himself unavailable for Davis Cup ties and other events this year citing personal reasons. In fact, AITA had agreed to this and had said Paes’s decision would ‘give an opportunity to the upcoming players to showcase their game’. When contacted, the selection committee chairman, Anil Dhupar, defended Paes’s selection. “Paes is the best in doubles,” he said. When reminded of Paes’s earlier decision, Dhupar said the world No 12 had made himself available for selection.
While Bhambri is still India’s second best in rankings, the 22-year-old has been out with a foot injury since February. Last week, he played at the Citi Open qualifiers but the former Australian Open junior champion retired hurt against Sekou Bangoura of the US in his first match since February.
Delhi boy Divij Sharan has been included as a reserve but one can question the need of having a third doubles specialist (he is the third best Indian ranked No 112, after Paes and Bopanna). Sanam, Saketh and even Somdev play doubles on the tour.
While the selection committee has looked at rankings, performances and fitness to select this squad, the experience these players bring to the team can’t be doubted; Paes’s record of 14 Grand Slams, Bopanna’s wins on the Tour and Somdev and Sanam’s gold-winning performances in the last Asian Games. In the short term, in terms of medal prospects, the players chosen seem capable of bringing laurels to the country, but it is not ideal when it comes to grooming the future generation.