There were two kinds of tennis players at the inaugural Maharashtra Tennis League: those who joined in the rebellion against the AITA and were made to sit out of the upcoming Davis Cup tie and those who didn’t join and grabbed the chance of a lifetime to play for the country.
But if you went looking for a fractious vibe within the second rung of Indian tennis, assembled in Pune for the first-of-its-kind tennis league in the country, there’s none present. At least no outwardly sign of it, as the players put up a professional front on the opening day.
For most of them, after the uncertainty of the past fortnight, the week-long event is a welcome break. “It’s good to be easing back into tennis action in a tournament like this after the fiasco,” said Vishnu Vardhan, who was snapped up by the Accurate Aces team for the highest bid of Rs. 1,90,000.
“We stood up for what we think was in the players’ best interests. None of our demands were unreasonable, but we didn’t force any player to join in the fight,” says Divij Sharan, who made his Davis Cup debut in September.
As for the five players from the Cup squad present in Pune: VM Ranjeet, Vijayant Malik, Arjun Kadhe, Purav Raja and Ashwin Vijayragavan, they insist it is strictly a career move. “India has three top-10 doubles players,” said Raja, 27, currently ranked 154 in doubles. “Normally, I would have never got a chance to play for the country. I don’t want to pass this up. I am good friends with Mahesh (Bhupathi) and Rohan (Bopanna). I am not going against the players here, I am sure they are right in whatever they are asking for. But I haven’t been a part of the Davis Cup squad; I have to see for myself what problems the players face.”
On Monday night, the MTL looked to dispel the dark cloud hanging over Indian tennis by bringing some of the best talent in the country under one roof and amping up the ‘fun’ factor. But it is the understanding, which comes with multiple struggles against the authorities and on the tour, if not outright friendship, within the ranks that will let Indian tennis live another day.