Of India’s loss and Korea’s gain

Down and out... India's Vijayant Malik is in agony after suffering from cramps during his reverse singles match against Suk Young Jeong of Korea.-SANDEEP SAXENA

The Indian team succumbed to the players’ crisis, while the Koreans capitalised on it by posting a victory that was easier than expected. By Kamesh Srinivasan.

It was probably the weakest team from the Republic of Korea to set foot on Indian soil in a long time, but the host made it all too easy for the visiting side.

Firstly, the Koreans did not have to contend with grass or unpredictable bounce here. The centre court at the R. K. Khanna Stadium in Delhi, which was hosting a match for the first time after the Commonwealth Games in 2010, had been painted, and this slowed down the court considerably.

Secondly, the best of Indian players formed a group and stayed out of the Davis Cup Asia-Oceania group ‘I’ tie, saying they did so for the betterment of the game in the country. To compound matters, the selectors, in their anxiety to pick the first available players, erred in their assessment, especially the calibre of the players.

The Indian team was packed with two specialist doubles players, and this meant that it was impossible for the two rookie players to make an impact in the four singles matches. Their game stood exposed on the first day itself.

Maybe the selectors were wise, after all, in ensuring at least one rubber for India. Leander Paes, aged 39 and playing his 49th Davis Cup tie, won the doubles in the company of debutant Purav Raja.

Raja had reached a career-best rank of 120 in doubles and had the experience of competing in the Challenger Circuit, winning three titles along the way. Coached by Sandeep Kirtane over the years, the former National champion played a solid game and combined nicely with Paes.

Raja hit a few resounding winners and was rock solid with his volleys even on a slow court where putting away the ball was not easy.

India’s Yuki Bhambri, Vishnu Vardhan, Sanam Singh and Sriram Balaji stayed away which ensured India’s defeat. It was a move to tell the world that the game was not in a healthy state in the country and that the officials of the All India Tennis Association (AITA) did not care for either the players or the game.

It was an irony that Malik cramped in the second singles and had to be helped off the court, as Bhambri relaxed in the stands, watching the drama. Bhambri, a former world No. 1 junior, talked to the media about the lack of written assurances with regard to the financial commitments of the AITA. Without any written assurance, he said, it was not worth the risk or playing for the country.

One thing the players forgot, which Paes kept reminding through the course of the tie, was that the game was bigger than anyone. He may have had his share of fights with the federation, but Paes was so disappointed with the way the Indian team was selected for the London Olympics that he opted to stay away from the team during the Davis Cup tie against New Zealand in September.

On his part, Paes emphasised that he played “for the people, the flag and the country”.

Paes also said that by avoiding the temptation to join the bandwagon, the players who figured in the tie against Korea had already emerged winners, as they had put the country ahead of everything else.

On court, of course, the reality was stark. Ranjeet, the former National champion who is ranked No. 511 on the ATP computer, failed to win more than two games against an unranked opponent in the first singles. That set the tone for the tie.

Malik, ranked No. 537 and who had won a Futures singles title in Vietnam, had the game, but he was not in the best of shape to tackle the Koreans. Had the selectors placed their faith on someone like Karunuday Singh, ranked No. 8 in the U.S. Collegiate circuit and who had won the singles title in an ITF Futures tournament at home, there would have been some hope of India making a fight of the contest against Korea.

Quite interestingly, Karunuday has a 3-0 win-loss record against Bhambri in the professional circuit. Trained by coach Paul Dale, he has the game to make it to the Davis Cup squad.

Anyway, in the first of the relegation play-off ties, India would be up against another beatable team, Indonesia, which has one quality player in Christopher Rungkat. It is time the rebel players realised that their strength evolves from playing for the country rather than staying away from national duty.

After captain S. P. Misra had stated categorically that he would be out of the squad if required to meet the players’ demands, Somdev Devvarman and company toned down their demands and dropped the idea of nominating the support staff of their choice.

It was an artificially created crisis in Indian tennis, and nobody benefited from it, except the Koreans who laughed all the way back home.

THE RESULTS: KOREA BEAT INDIA 4-1 (CHO MIN-HYEOK BEAT V. M. RANJEET 6-1, 6-0, 6-1; JEONG SUK-YOUNG BEAT VIJAYANT MALIK 6-4, 7-5, 3-0 (RETIRED); LIM YONG-KYU AND NAM JI SUNG LOST TO LEANDER PAES AND PURAV RAJA 4-6, 6-7 (5), 2-6; JEONG SUK YOUNG BEAT V. M. RANJEET 6-4, 6-4, 6-2; NAM JI SUNG BEAT VIJAYANT MALIK 6-2, 6-4.)