‘Good chance of getting into the World Group again’

India's non-playing captain S.P. Misra with Somdev Devvarman during the Davis Cup match against Indonesia in Bangalore. Misra is stepping down and Somdev wants a youngster in his place.-K. GOPINATHAN

“I hope somebody younger comes along and takes over my job. He might inspire the players much more than I could,” says S. P. Misra in an interview with Ashwin Achal.

The Davis Cup tie between India and Indonesia in Bangalore recently, marked S. P. Misra’s final assignment with the Indian team. The non-playing captain, who held the post for six years, recalls some of the highs — memorable victories over Brazil (Chennai, 2010) and South Africa (Johannesburg, 2009) — in this interview with Sportstar.

The 70-year-old also talks about the player-boycott, and Somdev Devvarman’s request for a young non-playing captain.

How do you look back on your tenure as captain?

Answer: The last six years have gone by so fast. When I took over, the first trip was to Bucharest, where we were beaten badly by Romania. After that, the team picked up the pace, and we managed to enter the World Group after a gap of 11 years. We went to Moscow, and once again entered the World Group, where we played Serbia, the champions. We have had some very exciting matches, and I thank the AITA for giving me the honour of captaining this side.

The victory against Brazil in Chennai should be the high point.

Yes. Brazil was great. But first came the South Africa tie, which we won to get into the World Group. Against Brazil, nobody gave us a chance after we went 0-2 down on the first day. Then we pulled it off, Somdev Devvarman and Rohan Bopanna played magnificently.

What was expected of you when you took over?

I was selected after Leander Paes decided to step down. I was a neutral person, who was not involved in any camp or group in the team. It took me a little time to get used to it, but after the first year, everything was fine. I had a great relationship with the players.

You were part of a successful Davis Cup team. Did the players then openly talk about problems like they do now?

When I played, it used to be a very small group of amateurs. We didn’t travel with a doctor, a physiotherapist and all that. It was just four of us; go and play a match and come back. There weren’t any big issues involved, and we did an excellent job when we played. It was Ramanathan Krishnan, Premjit Lal, Jaideep Mukherjea and me — possibly one of the best teams India has ever fielded.

Do you prefer the tennis of old days?

No, I don’t. Things change, and things change for the better. The surface, the racquet, the game pattern — everything has changed. Nobody believes in playing with a stance or style anymore. The emphasis is on hitting the ball hard to get the point.

Professional tennis is a serious affair…

It’s much more serious. Everyone involved is in the public eye, the media wants a piece of you, you’re on TV and in the newspapers. Things have changed quite a bit.

In 1966, you were part of the team which reached the World Group final. Tell us about that experience.

In the quarterfinal, we beat Germany — represented by Wilhelm Bungert and Ingo Buding — in Calcutta. It was a tough German team to beat on grass. We went on to play Brazil, once again in Calcutta. We were hopelessly down on the third day. Krishnan was playing the fifth match, and he was down two-sets-to-one and down 2-5 in the fourth set. But Krishnan — a world class player — bounced back and played tennis which blew my mind. He played so well, that within a few minutes, the match was over. It was one of the greatest victories you can ever imagine, given the situation of the tie.

How do you rate the present team?

Somdev Devvarman has improved a lot. After his shoulder injury layoff, his comeback has been great. He is beating some good players, and he has the potential to go far. If Yuki Bhambri can try and improve his game, India can go far. And with Leander Paes for support in the doubles, we have a very good chance of getting into the World Group again.

S.P. Misra and Leander Paes celebrate India's victory over Indonesia in Bangalore. Misra admires Paes' fitness.-K. MURALI KUMAR

This is an Asia-Oceania relegation tie, and the standard is low.

This wouldn’t have happened if the players hadn’t boycotted the South Korea tie, but, you know, we don’t have control over certain things. However, everyone is now back in the fold. A team, revolving around Somdev and Yuki, is capable of entering the World Group.

What was it like to work with Leander Paes?

He is a phenomenal player. Paes is the most natural doubles player I have ever seen. Even at this age, he is so fit. He has got such a lovely touch, and clever placements. As long as he keeps fit, he will play tennis of such high calibre.

Will you take up another role now?

I’m involved as a selection committee member, and if the AITA gives me another role, I’ll take it. I hope somebody younger comes along and takes over my job. He might inspire the players much more than I could.

You called for a young captain even at the press conference a few days before the tie against Indonesia. Was it hard for you to say this, given that earlier this year, Devvarman caused a stir by asking for a young person to replace you?

No, it was not hard for me at all. You cannot go on forever. It’s no problem at all. I’ve held the post for six years, and I’ve done my job sincerely. If someone younger comes along, I hope the players will become happy.

Does it worry you that the emphasis is on age, and not experience?

Only the players can answer that.

Who would you like to see as your replacement?

I’m afraid I cannot name any likely replacements. All I can say is that I would like my post to be taken by someone who will do a good job. If it’s someone younger, so be it.