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India tennis stars have points to score

sports Updated: Sep 06, 2014 00:23 IST
Sukhwant Basra
Sukhwant Basra
Hindustan Times
Somdev Devvarman

India’s chances in the Asian Games tennis are set to get a severe jolt as it has been learnt that apart from our top singles player Somdev Devvarman, even ace doubles proponents Leander Paes, Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza are set to miss the quadrennial event.

The most apparent reason for the men is the fact that they didn’t do too well in the US Open. Paes’ individual ranking is set to slip from its present high of 12 as he was defending the US Open doubles title. Bopanna is already at 29 and set to plummet further.

Devvarman’s biggest pay cheques come from the Grand Slams and he had to struggle to qualify at the US Open this year as his present rank of 143 did not allow him to make the cut for a direct entry into the 128-strong draw. The first-round loser in this edition walked off with about Rs 21 lakh. When it comes to Wimbledon, the sum goes up to as much as Rs 26 lakh.

Self before country?

Asked how he could put self before country, Paes was candid. “Because of the way the ranking system is structured, I am set to go down to about 30 as I was unable to defend my points at the US Open. Then, I am out in the wilderness with no easy direct entry into top events from where I earn my basic living.”

Usual draw for doubles events is of 24 teams and Paes will have to rely on a higher-ranked partner to get in. But then fans are not going to understand this. “Please explain to the people back home that this is about basic job security for next year. The Asian Games offer no points and the whole thing stretches for far too long. Two big events — Kuala Lumpur and Beijing clash with the Games. If I don’t do well in those, maybe I’ll have to ask HT for a job as a columnist next year!”

The veteran went on to explain that he didn’t understand why people doubted his patriotism about playing for India. “A man also has to ensure he earns enough to give his family the lifestyle it is used to. For me it’s a matter of survival on the tour.”

Sania, it has been learnt, is focused on making the season-ending doubles finals as she and Cara Black are almost certain of making the cut. Also, for the player from Hyderabad, it makes little sense to go to the Games with Paes, Bopanna and Devvarman missing. The mixed doubles title was her best bet. Further, she is defending a lot of points in the same period as the Asian Games.

In 2013, Sania had won back-to-back tournaments in Tokyo and Beijing with Black. This year, the Tokyo tournament begins on September 15 while Beijing is from September 27. In Tokyo last year, she won 900 ranking points and 1000 points in Beijing.

It is crucial she and Black do well in these events if they are to be a part of the eight-strong field at the season-ending finals which offer $6,500,000 (around Rs 391 crore) in prize money.

No money from govt

On its part the government has failed to release the `6.1 crore sanctioned for the training expenses of tennis players for the Asian Games. SAI director, Jiji Thomson, gave his logic: “The tennis federation has enough funds at its disposal. Federations that can conduct their own leagues should be able to generate their own funds and take less from the government.” AITA president, Anil Khanna, confirmed that the body had got no funds from the government to aid its players since the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Looks like basic economics just cost India a bunch of easy medals at the Asiad.

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