ROHAN BOPANNA and Prakash Amritraj dropped a news bomb last week. They wrote to the All India Tennis Association (AITA) that unless Leander Paes was replaced as the captain, they wouldn’t play Davis Cup for India.
The move sparked off several questions. On Sunday, Bopanna, 28, answered some of them during a telephone interview with the HT from Memphis, where he will compete in this week’s ATP Tour event.
What attributes does the team want in a captain?
We want a non-playing captain, while Leander is often a playing
captain. That affects the leadership of the team. There was a tie in which Prakash, Leander, Mahesh and myself were in the captain’s chair for different matches. When there’s a non-playing captain, there’s one person in charge. That’s always good for the team.
How are you feeling today, with everything off your chest?
Absolutely fine. Prakash and I had decided it was time to speak up and we went ahead with it.
How much of it was your initiative to write to the AITA?
Prakash and me decided that we needed to bring some things out in the open. We wrote the mail ourselves. It was our initiative.
How have contemporaries responded to your step?
We have not heard from the AITA. We wanted to sort the issues out in Delhi itself. But Anil Khanna (the AITA secretary general) wasn’t ready to talk. He didn’t take phone calls. It’s always better to talk to people face-to-face. But since there was no response, we wrote an e-mail.
What are the players going to do if the AITA stands by Leander?
We won’t be available for the tie.
What did you go through when you decided to take this step? On the one hand, you were taking on a legend. On the other, things had to be brought out into the open.
We didn’t want to say that we didn’t want Leander in the team. He is perhaps India’s best ever Davis Cup player. We just don’t want him as the captain. We weren’t afraid of our decision backfiring on us because what we revealed was fact and not fiction.
You have known Leander for long. Do you think he has changed?
I know him since 2002. We spent time of any significance only during ties. The rest of the year, there was hardly any interaction, even if we were at the same tournament. A captain’s relationship with his players should extend beyond the few days of Davis Cup ties.
‘Lesser players’ questioning Leander: Vece Paes
DR VECE Paes, the father of Indian tennis captain Leander Paes, said he was sad that a player of his son’s stature and achievements was being questioned by “lesser players”.
“It’s unfortunate that after all that Leander’s done for the country, in the Olympics and the Asian Games and the Davis Cup, he is being questioned by lesser people,” Dr Paes told the Hindustan Times on Sunday from Kuala Lumpur, where is on assignment at the under-19 cricket World Cup.
Dr Paes was reacting to the decision by the rest of the Indian team to not play the Davis Cup tie against Japan in April if Leander remained captain.
“Leander has treated all the players with respect. The selection is always fair,” said Dr Paes.
On Saturday, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) confirmed it received an email from Rohan Bopanna, with the support of Prakash Amritraj, Mahesh Bhupathi and Karan Rastogi, saying they would not play in the Davis Cup tie against Japan in April if Leander continued as the captain. (Rastogi, though, is not currently in the team).
The players say that dissatisfaction with Paes’ methods had been building up for a while. But things came to a head when the captain benched Amritraj for the opening day’s singles matches against Uzbekistan in the recent Davis Cup tie. In Leander’s view, Amritraj was suffering a stomach upset due to indulgence at a party. He called him “unprofessional” for it in a press conference. Amritraj insisted he was healthy and that the party in question was held an entire week before the matches. He also said that he had not consumed alcohol.
“It was my advice to Leander to not field Prakash,” Dr Paes said. “He had diarrhoea and was vomiting. The belief was that he wouldn’t be ready for the first two days but that he would play on the third day. Leander communicated this to him well in advance. The strategy proved successful (Amritraj clinched the tie for India by winning the decisive fifth rubber).”
Asked if the once friendly Leander had changed, Dr Paes replied. “No. He is the same friendly, decent guy. But he has a lot on his plate now. He is married, he has a child. He has his tennis and his business. He is preoccupied and less accessible than he used to be.”