On court, Somdev Devvarman is very much the gritty beast of burden. It is a very exacting kind of tennis that he plays. It is dogged: based more on the ability to hang in there and outlast the opponent. So it is no wonder that he is not letting the national tennis federation get away without a fight.
Devvarman is categorical in his assertion that he did not receive any communication with fresh concessions from the All India Tennis Association (AITA). He goes on to say that “unavailability” would no longer have been a factor. “We would have certainly reconsidered. Playing for India has been the dream for all of us ever since we picked up a racket. I wish they would have communicated to us in writing.” Devvarman was not too charitable towards the press release which said that the players were informed of the climbdown by the federation.
“It is unprofessional to say something was communicated to us when it wasn't. It is not possible to have a relationship with the AITA based on good faith. They have reneged on many a thing in the past. We wanted everything in writing so that we knew exactly what their stand was.”
On the pointed query as to whether the rebels would have backed down had the body informed them of its climb-down, Devvarman said: “Each one of us would have been available to play. We would have continued to fight for the betterment of Indian tennis but would have certainly turned up for the tie.”
Devvarman goes on to take the issue beyond the Davis Cup.
“The reason we have so many young players on our side is because there have been systemic issues that refuse to go away. No one in India becomes a player because of a system. This must change.”
There has been a lot of speculation about just what triggered this revolt. Aspersions have been cast on the actual role of Mahesh Bhupathi and AITA vice-president Karti Chidambaram. Is Devvarman just the front for a larger conspiracy to take over Indian tennis?
“That's ridiculous! The first communication was completely between me, the AITA president and a senior executive of the federation. It stemmed from feedback that I had received from Vishnu (Vardhan) and Sanam (Singh) in the wake of the tie against New Zealand (Chandigarh, September 2012).”
He went to clarify that he had not even involved the big names of Indian tennis. “I did not even copy Mahesh (Bhupathi) and Leander (Paes) on the first email. It was a private communication to AITA president Anil Khanna and a senior executive.”
Surprised by unity
Even Devvarman is surprised by the unity shown by the younger players. “It is remarkable that a bunch of young guys who are yet to make their careers are speaking out so openly against the federation. The AITA needs to understand that this is a fight against the ills that have carried on for too long.”
Public perception, according to Devvarman, favours the players. “The number of emails and Facebook messages I have got from coaches and former players makes it clear to me that our fight is legitimate.“
The players are certainly not pleased that India is not fielding its best side in the Davis Cup tie against South Korea. “It is sad. Had they been straight up in communicating with us, this would not have come to pass.”