Tired of the opaque manner of functioning of the national tennis federation and its consistent inability to live up to its promises to them, eight Indian players have come up with a charter of demands. These are Somdev Devvarman, Mahesh Bhupathi, Rohan Bopanna, Yuki Bhambri, Vishnu Vardhan, Sanam Singh, Divij Sharan and Saketh Myneni.
The proposal looks to introduce transparency and parity in the way the federation deals with the Davis Cup team. Former Indian number one Devvarman is the spearhead of the new challenge that the national body faces.
This development comes in the wake of a late Sunday night inconclusive meeting held here between the players and three representatives of the federation. The meeting, in turn, had been called on account of a Devvarman email dated December 17 sent to the All India Tennis Association president Anil Khanna in which he raised many issues that he feels plague the Indian Davis Cup team. Veteran player Leander Paes, while being present in the city, did not attend the interaction. Bhupathi and Bopanna, it has been learnt, were not invited to attend but they anyway made their way in. The eight players named above and present at this meeting gave a vocal Devvarman their pledge to stay united and take on the federation.
Precise details were still sketchy at the time of going to press but it has been reliably learnt that the distribution of prize money is a huge factor. As of now, the national federation keeps half of the total prize money that is paid by the International Tennis Federation for Davis Cup ties. The rest of the 50% is distributed amongst the players on the basis of a formula, which looks to reward the top-ranked singles player the most. The reserves and coaches get paltry sums.
The players are fine with a 50-50 split in lower zonal ties but do not want the federation to pocket half of the big money which comes from participation in the upper echelons of the competition. They are also tired of the reserves — the young players who actually need the money to invest into their game — getting hardly anything for showing up.
In the recent past, the Davis Cup squad has had quite a merry entourage of people what with each player insisting upon his own coach or physio to come along. The mistrust between the sport's top two Indian stars — Paes and Bhupathi — meant that each wanted his own man on the scene. Then, Devvarman took to getting his coach and trainer along.
The players want this to end and have proposed a common set of people. They have also asked for a new captain to replace SP Misra and coach Nandan Bal who, they feel, aren't up to the mark.
The players are no longer satisfied with just turning up for home ties, they want to have a say in where they play. According to Devvarman's mail, this was a promise made to the players by the federation but has not been honoured in choice of the latest venue. Delhi is set to host the tie against South Korea February 1-3.
The ad-hoc nature in which the reserves are treated has also upset the players who want a six-member team to travel to all ties and not just the ones at home. The players feel that it is not possible to groom the next generation unless they are given constant exposure along with the squad.
The players have impressed upon the AITA that there should no discrimination between different team members when it comes to air tickets. As of now, Bhupathi, Paes and Devvarman travel business class while the rest of the team goes economy. The demand is that henceforth all the players must travel by business class.
While this may sound frivolous, the fact is that Paes and Bhupathi both chose to travel in comfort as soon as they could afford it in order to ensure longevity of their careers. The extra legroom translates into less possibility of cramps and apparently aids recovery after tournaments.
It has been reliably learnt that even reserves like Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan and Sriram Balaji have been spoken to and have in principle decided to support the fight against the federation.
Usually these kind of revolts fizzle out when the federation administers a mix of lucre and threats but the players have told each other that this is the new united face of Indian tennis and they are determined to make a difference.