Viewing from the other side

THERE is something very romantic about South Club's association with the Davis Cup. Each time the tournament is held in Kolkata, the lush green lawns of the venue charm the home players to perform well.

AMITABHA DAS SHARMA

With the covers of the centre court proving to be an embarrassment, ball boys and girls were pressed into service to help the ground staff in the mopping-up operations.-Pic. S. PATRONOBISH

THERE is something very romantic about South Club's association with the Davis Cup. Each time the tournament is held in Kolkata, the lush green lawns of the venue charm the home players to perform well. The surface, with its equability of bounce and the invariability of pace, has favoured all the generations of players who have played and won for the country. The famed centre-court has even won admiration from all the visitors.

The hallowed turf of the venue proved its efficacy yet again as India swamped New Zealand. With only two ties going against, this was the eighth occasion (since the first tie was hosted in 1959) the result has favoured India.

A critical appreciation of the event will bring up some cases of slips in the management but the triumph and the euphoria resulting from it seemed to erase the shortcomings, which would have been glaring had the tie gone the other way. The organisers — the South Club and the Bengal Tennis Association — seemed to be caught on the wrong foot by the weather. Though the other arrangements were made to the specifications, the covers of the Centre Court proved an embarrassment for the organisers.

The city, which generally has a pleasant climate during this part of the year, was under the grip of uncharacteristic heat and humidity. This tended to hint at untimely rains as on the first day. The cloud burst just after Leander Paes had given Mark Nielsen a good "lesson on grass'' to put India ahead. The second tie between Rohan Bopanna and Alistair Hunt was washed out as the court went under water following an hour of heavy shower. With the monsoon far away, the organisers expected light rains at the most and made arrangements accordingly. Though the sun immediately came out, the court was found too wet as the advertisement boards around the court prevented the water from flowing out. Even the plastic covers arranged for the Public Works Department fell short on the four sides allowing some seepage on to the court.

Cricket came to the aid of tennis as the Cricket Association of Bengal lent the super-sopper machine which was extensively used, along side heavy blowers, in the night-long drying efforts. There were two more spells of rain which prolonged the mop-up operations as the second singles was pushed back further till almost the afternoon. Fortune seemed to smile on the final day as the weather relented and the Indian players showed exceptional form winning matches in straight sets to complete the action in the stipulated three days. As this was the first rain interruption in the long history of the tournament the organisers have promised to make elaborate arrangements next time. The rains did prove a bit of a dampener but there was a greater crisis forcing the hosts look a bit pale prior to the start.

A mix of financial bad news hit organisers who found the going tough with very few prospective sponsors responding favourably. The Allies' incursion of Iraq, the financial year-ending and restrictive sponsorship norms of the International Tennis Federation came up like a hydra-headed monster. With the expenditures running into many lakhs the situation looked grim.

The depression created by war had many companies hesitating while the financial year-ending forced many others to refuse. And finally there were the restrictive norms of the ITF that tended to handicap the local organiser in order to protect the interest of the international sponsors — BNP Paribas, Ajilon, Boss and Kia Motors. The situation was further aggravated as BTA tapped a good number of companies inaugurating its own complex and hosting the ITF Futures tournament just the previous week. Some delayed responses have buoyed up the organisers, who now hope to reach the break-even in income and expenditure.