Rude shock after the pleasant surprise

Czech Republic’s Jiri Vesely exults after winning the reverse singles rubber against Yuki Bhambri and securing the tie 3-1 in the Davis Cup Championship, in New Delhi.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Despite all the claims about camaraderie and everyone playing for each other, the atmosphere had been vitiated before the tie by some casual and calculated comments, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

India not making the World Group, despite the favourable flow, was no big deal! The team has not done that since playing Serbia in 2011, when it outsmarted Brazil in Chennai from being down 0-2.

Somdev Devvarman and Rohan Bopanna were the heroes of that tie in 2010, and the foundation for their heroics was laid by Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, winning the doubles in straight sets against Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares.

“A lot of us in the tennis fraternity have been spoilt by the record that me and Mahesh had in Davis Cup, in the Grand Slams and on the Tour. It was a crazy team. We went on an undefeated streak of 24 matches in Davis Cup. The contribution was phenomenal, for eight years in a row. But, put that aside,” said Leander Paes, as he tried to put things in perspective.

However, it was a shock that Paes and Bopanna failed to put up a “serious” fight against the Czech Republic, despite the fact that Radek Stepanek had a rookie partner in Adam Pavlasek, who had played only one Davis Cup rubber. It was another matter that the 21-year-old Pavlasek had fetched a victory in five sets in partnership with Jiri Vesely against Lleyton Hewitt and Samuel Groth earlier this year, when Australia beat the three-time champion in the first round in Ostrava.

As India captain Anand Amritraj put it, “it was a rude shock.” Particularly so, after Somdev Devvarman, ranked 164, had played one of the best matches of his career, beating the 40th ranked Jiri Vesely in straight sets in the second rubber, after the 23-year-old Yuki Bhambri had been outplayed by Lukas Rosol, a top class player, ranked a career-best 26 last year.

Bopanna took the blame on himself and said that he played by instinct and things did not work his way despite the fact that he had a wonderful season, especially in the U.S. series till the U.S. Open.

Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna failed to put up a "serious" fight against the Czech Republic, despite the fact that Radek Stepanek had a Rookie partner in Adam Pavlasek.-SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

It was Bopanna’s serve that was broken first, in the fourth game of the first set, and even though Pavlasek revealed bouts of nerves, by delivering a double-fault on set-point and eventually dropping serve in the 10th game, the Indian pair failed to take advantage of it, as Paes himself dropped serve from having a game-point in the next game.

Stepanek, who has won Grand Slam titles with Paes, served out the set. Thereafter, the match finished in a flash with the Czech celebrating a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 victory in just about two hours. Virtually, the Davis Cup tie had been sealed then and there, as both the captains pointed out later.

Paes jumped to Bopanna’s support and said that he was taking 50 per cent of the blame, as it was a team.

It was not exactly “rhythm” that the pair was missing. It was the same pair which had come back from two sets and a break down to beat Serbia in a memorable doubles a year ago in Bengaluru. Somdev had played another brilliant match to put India 2-2 then, before Yuki, quite rusty after having lost four months to injury, was unable to lift his game up in the fifth rubber.

It was clear that something had “snapped” in Paes. His heart was broken by the comments floating around as much as the fact that his daughter could not be with him during the Davis Cup tie. There is only so much even an evergreen champion of the class of Paes can endure. It was the last straw on the camel’s back. It was tough to say which “blade” of grass, tore his heart, and brought the worst from him.

Mahesh Bhupathi used to complete tournaments without dropping serve because he had the “lightning kid” Paes at the net. When Paes does not move like the way lightning strikes, his partners look like poor performers. Paes froze in the match against the Czech, at some moments. He was not his usual self, a man who had won three mixed doubles Grand Slam titles this season.

Somdev Devvarman played one of the best matches of his career, beating the 40th ranked Jiri Vesely in straight sets in the second rubber.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Despite all the claims about camaraderie and everyone playing for each other, the atmosphere had been vitiated before the tie by some casual and calculated comments. First, it was mentioned that it was unfair to Saketh Myneni that Paes walks into the team as and when it pleases him.

Even though Paes responded by saying that the captain had been “prodded” into the subject, he was at pains to explain that it was important to have a strong pair in the team to tackle the high quality of tennis at that level when the team was trying to get into the World Group. It was also hard for Paes to explain his absence for the tie against New Zealand, as he pointed out that it was important to allow the youngsters to take charge at that level.

So, when Paes plays, it is a problem, and when he does not play, it is a problem again.

Have a heart, you cannot be treating one of the greatest players the country has ever produced in such a fashion, especially when he is vulnerable at 42, not physically but mentally.

To top it all, there was more hint in the misguided comments that Devvarman had been a more fair leader, and even the reserve players had their share of money from Davis Cup ties, and the people earlier had been “selfish” as the equation was loaded highly in favour of the No. 1 player.

That is pure ignorance. The equation was made by the All India Tennis Association (AITA), basically to reward winning performances and not for just making the numbers.

For long, Paes used to win all his three matches in singles and doubles in Davis Cup, naturally pocketing all the rewards that came with it. Paes said that he was ready to play Davis Cup for five, six or seven years. But, does the team “want” it?

Having fulfilled the requirement of being “nominated” at least once for Davis Cup in one of the two years before the Olympics, and also the fact that India would be playing in the Asia-Oceania zone, Paes may not be ready to play the next tie, particularly in such an atmosphere of mistrust.

A team may be operating in a democratic way, but a champion of the class and calibre of Paes, who has an 89-33 win-loss record in Davis Cup, 41-11 in doubles, definitely deserves to be treated with a lot more respect and dignity.

If you have belief, Paes would deliver, even in the Rio Olympics! Without the trust, his steps lose the spring.