The stand against the national federation taken by the players who are the future of the Indian Davis Cup squad reflects a new mindset which was absent in the generations gone by. It seems to reflect the underlying anger in today's youth against an unresponsive system; it's a thought process that refuses to take things lying down. Compromise and accommodation seem to have become cuss words — quite contrary to the chalta hai attitude of many of us who have dealt with sports administrators in India for a long time.
A higher share in the prize money of Davis Cup is not the moot point of this struggle. Instead, it is more about introducing professionalism in a body that has done little to support players in their formative years.
The players feel that they don't owe the All India Tennis Association anything, for the only support that they get are funds that are coming from the government with nothing being raised from the federation's own sources. It's a rebellion against decision makers who are out of touch with the realities of modern sport.
Somdev Devvarman is a product of the American university sports system. There he learnt that the team comes first and everything else after that. In the Indian Davis Cup squad, he found that egos and personal preferences of the veteran players Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi had created a unit ridden with suspicion and intrigue. Devvarman's struggle is more about building a united, focused team wherein each member backs the other.
That's the core of this new face of Indian tennis. It stems from the realisation that for far too long, our players have been mired in petty competition with one another instead of working as a cohesive unit to take on the world. It is an offshoot of the understanding that differences between Paes and Bhupathi allowed the AITA to play one against the other and run the Davis Cup squad sans any questioning.
YEARS OF SERVICE
Amongst the support staff named in the mails — with terms like unprofessional being liberally applied — there is great resentment.
Whatever drawbacks the present lot may see in long-term coach Nandan Bal, team doctor Vece Paes, Leander's trainer Sanjay Singh and captain SP Misra, the fact cannot be negated that these people have put in years of service to the best of their ability.
Even if they are to be eased out now, the same should be done with respect and dignity. Devvarman could have been
gentler in his language — after all American bluntness is not always acceptable in an Indian context.
The manner of this revolt is more emotional than intelligent. Devvarman has his reasons. He apparently raised issues again and again but found no relief. But holding a gun to the head of the federation puts the body in a corner.
The players have arrogated to themselves the role of selectors by insisting on a captain and coach of their choice.
They have categorically stated that they are not available to play for India unless their demands are met.
This raises the stakes to the level of a naked confrontation. In all struggles, there has to be room for compromise and discussion. Problems that are decades old can't be bludgeoned into submission with a sledgehammer blow.
Meanwhile, AITA continues to make a hash of things by sending in negotiators who have not been given the mandate to guarantee players anything.
It was only after futile talks over a couple of days that Devvarman's stance turned from a plea to open confrontation.
This story is not done just yet. The AITA has to be chipping away to find ways to break the unity of the players. It remains to be seen just who laughs hardest by the time the South Koreans come to play in February.
Sadly, the most interesting news in Indian tennis continues to be generated off court.