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United front; Cup tie in trouble

In the face of players’ protest the federation is fast running out of options as divide and rule may no longer work, Sukhwant Basra reports.

sports Updated: Jan 02, 2013 01:00 IST
Sukhwant Basra

The disgruntled Indian tennis players have taken their fight against the tennis federation to an altogether different level. In a communication sent to the All India Tennis Association (AITA) top brass on Tuesday, the eight players, who form the core and the next rung of the Davis Cup team, have said that they are ready to boycott the forthcoming tie against South Korea if their charter of demands is not adhered to.

They insist that unless the federation makes drastic changes in the way it handles the team, none of the eight will turn up for the tie slated to be held at Delhi from February 1-3.

Joint front

Somdev Devvarman, Mahesh Bhupathi, Rohan Bopanna, Yuki Bhambri, Vishnu Vardhan, Sanam Singh, Divij Sharan and Saketh Myneni have banded together to put up a joint front against the body. The selection committee meets on January 11 to decide on the four playing members and the reserves for the tie. However, the rebellious eight have decided that unless there is a more rational distribution of prize money, change in support staff, smoother travel arrangements and more player involvement in crucial team decisions, they are not available to play Davis Cup for India.

New team

The united stand may well scuttle the AITA’s plans to drop Devvarman from the team along with Bhupathi and Bopanna. It has been reliably learnt that the AITA top bosses had decided to form a new team under the captaincy of Leander Paes minus these three players. Of course, to do so, they would have to reverse their earlier decision of not having a playing captain. Paes had to relinquish his captaincy during the Beijing Olympics in the wake of an open rebellion by Bhupathi, Bopanna and Prakash Amritraj.

Eligibility issues

The US passport-holder Amritraj is no longer eligible to play for India after the then sports minister, MS Gill, brought in the rule that only those players who are Indian citizens would be allowed to represent the Tri-colour. The AITA made an effort with his successor, Ajay Maken, to explore the option of whether the rule could be relaxed. The easiest way for the top bosses to quell the present rebellion would be to rope in US players like Amritraj and Rajeev Ram to form a new team.

No change in policy

However, when HT checked with the sports ministry on Tuesday, we were informed that the policy stays the same as of now. Amritraj has always expressed his willingness to play for India provided he does not have to change his passport.

Ram also told your correspondent on Tuesday that he would love to play Davis Cup for India provided he too could do so while being a US citizen.

Earlier, the team for the tie against South Korea was to be announced in December. But Devvarman’s explosive mail, asking for changes in the way the Davis Cup team has been run, led the federation to put off the selection till after the Chennai Open.

The AITA mandarins were hoping that Devvarman would be unable to repeat his earlier showing at the Chennai Open — in 2009 he made it to the finals and followed that with a second round appearance the next year — and his low present ranking (664) would allow them to drop him from the team. That plan just got blown away along with the 106-ranked Jan Hajek in the first round.