Finding victory in defeat

Published : Nov 03, 2001 00:00 IST

THE whole world seems to have gone topsy turvy since September 11. I happened to be in the US on that day, in Washington D.C. to be more specific. And amidst all this turmoil, I have made two visits to the U.S. in the past months. All this because we (India) were drawn to play against USA in a Davis Cup tie. The winner would get a spot in the main draw for the next year and the vanquished relegated back to zonal play.

This was the fourth consecutive away match we had in Davis Cup - starting from playing Sweden last summer to travelling to China and Japan earlier this year. But we were all excited at the chance to play against USA. All our team members had a strong affiliation to this country. Three of our team members - Mahesh Bhupathi, Syed Fazaluddin and Harsh Mankad - had all played college tennis in the U.S. Mahesh resides in New York when he is not on the tour as does Leander in Orlando. As for me, I had played my first World Group tie against the U.S. in California and had also used U.S. as my base during my active playing years.

The tie was scheduled for September 21-23 two weekends after the conclusion of the U.S. Open. I left for the U.S. on September 5, to spend a week with family and friends before proceeding to the site.

On the morning of September 11 (Tuesday.), I was on the phone with USTA going over some details regarding the match. Suddenly, the person at the other end became incoherent. If it was April 1, I would have thought it was a bad attempt at an April Fool's joke. Enough has been written about what transpired that day. Life seemed to come to a standstill.

The next couple of days, I was in constant touch with the organisers. On their part, they were not clear whether to proceed with the tie or not. From our side, Leander Paes, our star player was back in India and all the airports in the U.S. were closed. We also did not know when they would re-open.

By Friday we mutually agreed to postpone the tie. And the new dates were October 12 to 14. With this, I boarded a flight back to India. I had not visited the U.S. in five years and now all this was happening.

All along, we knew it was going to be tough playing the U.S. They had beaten us on all previous occasions. But we knew the playing conditions there would be quite favourable to us. Our strong point, of course, was our doubles team, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. But a win in doubles was by no means a certainty. The Americans had Don Johnson and Jared Palmer, the current Wimbledon champions and the runners up at the U.S. Open. So, I am sure they fancied their chances as well.

As far as singles was concerned, Andy Roddick, one of the hottest players on the tour was a certainty. And the Americans had to decide between Todd Martin, the seasoned campaigner, and James Blake, another newcomer who had been in good form. Finally, the Americans opted for the youth in their line up.

The first day started with India losing the two singles in straight sets. Things were looking bleak for us. Part of our problem was that Leander had come in to this tie under prepared. With the last minute postponement, Leander was not able to re-arrange his schedule and what was originally meant to be a week's break stretched to a month. And to use the cliche, a month is a long time in sport.

But the first day's loss certainly sharpened Leander and in partnership with Mahesh, he scored a fantastic four-set win over the American duo. Our Davis Cup pair have not lost a doubles match in Cup play since April 1996 and this is a fantastic feat. What I appreciate in Leander and Mahesh is that they compete extremely well. I have seen both of them off form in Davis Cup matches but they never use it as an excuse. They go out and give it their all, and most importantly, they believe in themselves.

I would give a lot of importance to the last sentence. For too long, Indian sportsmen have languished at the international level due to lack of self belief. I don't know whether things have changed with the younger generation but this is very refreshing to see.

The Americans knew they had a fight on hand. The local press might have written us off but now, the tie had come to life. Andy Roddick, the star of the American team beat Leander in a very close four-set match. Leander won the first set but Roddick kept upping the level which Leander found tough to keep pace with. Also, the excitement of the first two days had caught up with Leander and his tank was running on empty. With his nose bleeding, Leander once again played as if his life depended on that match but came up short. The Americans heaved a huge sigh of relief while we had salvaged some pride. The crowd gave our boys a big ovation and it was deservedly so.

The tie was extremely well organised. Being in a smaller centre, they were able to get in close to 5000 people per day (The capacity was about 6000). So, the matches were well attended. Apart from this they were shown on TV both in the U.S. as well as in India. With what had happened, emotions were running very high. There was plenty of flag waving, and the Indians in the crowd (they were in sizeable numbers also) brought out the tri-colour. All this made for a very colourful atmosphere.

The local organisers tried to bring a feel of the American basketball games by introducing the teams to the crowd on each of the three days. This they did with special lighting effects and music to go with it. We all got a kick out of it. The national anthems of the two teams were played on each of the three days, which is a rarity.

The coach is a very revered person in the American sporting scene. So, wherever I went I was introduced as coach Krishnan. I was reminded of the joke (I think attributed to Ian Chappell), the coach is something that takes you from your hotel to the stadium. As a matter of fact, I couldn't even do this as I had not taken my licence to drive the team car. Nevertheless, I was coach Krishnan for the week.

Thanks to the third and fourth matches, we were able to make the Americans work hard for their victory. And we could leave Winston-Salem with our heads held high. Sometimes, you find victory in defeat and at other times, defeat in victory. This was a case of the former.

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