United they stand

Members of the Indian team, along with non-playing captain S. P. Misra, celebrate their victory against Indonesia at the KSLTA in Bangalore.-K. MURALI KUMAR

After the 5-0 whipping of Indonesia, India now needs three more victories to enter the World Group and a lot depends on Somdev Devvarman’s presence in the team. By Ashwin Achal.

After plummeting to a disappointing low, Indian tennis now has the chance to make a new beginning with renewed hope. India completed a 5-0 whipping of Indonesia in the Davis Cup Asia-Oceania (Group I) relegation tie — a situation it should not have been in, to begin with — and it seems like the protagonists are all finally on the same page.

When the top players boycotted India’s Asia-Oceania first round tie against a mediocre South Korea in New Delhi — which the host duly lost 1-4 — it was clear that things could not have got any worse. Two months later, in Bangalore, the rebels were back on the court — with no traces of bickering — to give a glimpse of what can be achieved when priorities shift to just playing tennis.

The farce in New Delhi was preceded by the drama leading up to the 2012 Olympics — where India wasted a chance to win a medal — when doubles specialist Mahesh Bhupathi chose not to team up with Leander Paes. Bhupathi and Paes played with Rohan Bopanna and Vishnu Vardhan respectively and both combinations failed to make the cut in London.

Yuki Bhambri and Somdev Devvarman (below) blew away the Indonesian challenge in the singles.-K. MURALI KUMAR

Next, the tie against South Korea spelt doom. The All India Tennis Association, meanwhile, announced that Bhupathi and Bopanna were no longer to be considered for the Davis Cup.

However, in Bangalore, the Indian players appeared to enjoy each other’s company. Quick rounds of football during practice served as a bonding exercise, and even the harshest of critics would not have dismissed the wide smiles and backslapping as just an act.

During a press conference, Paes stated that he “will not be around for much longer” to guide the team. Somdev Devvarman interrupted the elder statesman with a witty, reverential comment — “Don’t be so sure!” — on the 39-year-old’s phenomenal standard of fitness.

These little footnotes gave credence to the statement made repeatedly by everyone in the Indian team: “We may have differences, but we have learnt to respect each other.”

K. GOPINATHAN

Yuki Bhambri provided the most significant clue as to whether Indian tennis is heading in the right direction. The 20-year-old faced Christopher Rungkat on the opening day in what was expected to be an even contest, at least on paper. Going by their world rankings, there was not much to choose between the two. Bhambri, however, blew away his opponent, prompting India’s non-playing captain S. P. Misra to term the contest as “one of the best matches Yuki has played”.

After the match, even a stunned Rungkat admitted that he did not stand a chance against Bhambri. India’s No. 2 singles player dropped only a solitary game against Wisnu Adi Nugroho in the reverse singles. A relaxed Bhambri, who had watched India go down to South Korea in New Delhi from the stands, said that the weekend against Indonesia had been “exceptional”.

Devvarman, the spearhead, meant business with the racquet in hand. Playing against opponents ranked lower than him, Devvarman dismantled Nugroho (in the first singles) and David Agung Susanto (in the reverse singles) and quietly walked away.

India needs three more victories to enter the World Group and a lot depends on Devvarman’s presence in the team.

Paes partnered Sanam Singh in the doubles and once again, it was smooth sailing for the pair. A quick-footed Paes found the angles that only he can, while Sanam made a mark with a few telling winners of his own.

The ITF, celebrating its centenary year, honoured Mahesh Bhupathi (second from left), Ramesh Krishnan, Anand Amritraj and Ramanathan Krishnan during the Asia Oceania Zone (Group 1) play-off between India and Indonesia at the KSLTA in Bangalore. The AITA honoured Leander Paes (extreme right), who played his 50th Davis Cup match and the non-playing captain S. P. Mishra (extreme left).-K. GOPINATHAN

During the match, a puzzled Susanto turned his head and stared straight at Paes whenever an exquisite shot beat him all ends up. It was in admiration rather than any attempt to intimidate his opponent.

The only incident that shifted the focus away from the KSLTA Stadium was a press conference called by the Indian Tennis Players’ Association (ITPA) a few hours after India’s doubles match. The ITPA — with all the current Davis Cup players on board — met for the first time. The association, with Bhupathi and Bopanna in the forefront, took pride in having all significant players (past and present) united as one.

The members of the newly-formed ITPA, Karthi Chidambaram, Jaideep Mukherjea, Mahesh Bhupathi, Somdev Devvarman and Rohan Bopanna at the media conference in Bangalore.-K. MURALI KUMAR

The tie was also Misra’s final assignment of his six-year tenure as non-playing captain.

Earlier in the year, Devvarman had stated that he would prefer a younger non-playing captain, and the comment did not sit well with Misra, aged 70. He stepped down in protest, only to take up the position once again at the insistence of the AITA.

When asked to name an ideal replacement, Misra said, “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.”

There was no bitterness in his voice. The message was clear though: let bygones be bygones.