Mahesh Bhupathi, India’s Davis Cup captain, has urged the Government of India to include men’s singles players in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS).
Tennis had never got the kind of support that boxing or wrestling got from the government, claimed Bhupathi.
Two tennis players who have been included in the scheme are Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan. The sports ministry has brought the doubles duo in the fold keeping the 2020 Olympics in mind. “I know Rohan and Divij have been approved by TOPS but the singles boys need to get that support. That’s the bottom line,” Bhupathi told reporters after India’s 3-1 defeat to Italy in the Davis Cup Qualifiers at Calcutta South Club.
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“The government needs to step up and support tennis. I know they are supporting a lot of sports. They are supporting hockey, wrestling, boxing but tennis has not got that support yet,” Bhupathi said.
“It’s not easy for AITA to support them as they don’t have a revenue source of money. I think the Government have a lot of schemes likes TOPS, NSDF, [etc.]”
In singles, left-hander Prajnesh Gunneswaran is India’s No. 1, achieving a career high 102 from a lowly 243 at the start of 2018. World No. 133 Ramkumar Ramanathan is the second-ranked Indian; also among the elite Indian players is the former World No. 83 Yuki Bhambri, who is recovering from an injury.
“Rome was not built in a day. I think the story for Indian tennis is changing. We have got three boys who can compete at this level, something we never had for a long time. There’s still potential especially for the singles boys,” Bhupathi said.
Prajnesh and Ramkumar were part of the Indian team that hoped to create an upset on grass in its Davis Cup tie here. The surface was unfamiliar for Italy, but the script went on expected lines as the visiting team won three of its singles rubbers to seal the issue make it to the World Finals in Madrid.
“We [have] got to respect the Italians. We all knew how big a heavyweight team they are. They showed that today. He hit three aces in a row at 5-3 (in the second set),” Bhupathi said, referring to Andreas Seppi’s 6-1, 6-4 win over Prajnesh.
In what could be his last media interaction as the non-playing captain, Bhupathi who took charge in 2017, said: “I took this job because I knew we had a significant depth in our team. I will continue to give my feedback.”
Asked if making the World Group was the maximum his team could achieve, Bhupathi said: “Everybody needs to live in the real world. It’s a sport competed among 190 countries. Are there any team in Madrid without a top-100 singles player? I doubt.”
He added: “These boys are working themselves up. Once we have a fully fit team I don’t see why we can’t make Madrid. We can’t expect miracles in sport. That’s not the way it works.”
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India overcame some nervy moments in doubles when the formidable pair of Bopanna and Sharan fought back from an opening set deficit to defeat Simone Boelleli and Matteo Berrettini 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 43 minutes. “It is like going to office for me; I have been doing this since 2002 in the Davis Cup. I am used to being down 30-40 on serve. In that situation, I just play to my strengths,” Bopanna said.
No tennis on grass
Italy may not be used to playing on grass but the side, captained by Corrado Barazzutti, found itself at home. “We don’t have a grass in Italy. We have a garden. We don’t play tennis in the garden,” the 1976 Davis Cup winner quipped when asked whether the players have a secret grass-court back home in Italy.
World No. 37 Seppi spearheaded Italy’s challenge after it omitted No. 19 Marco Cecchinato, its top-ranked player, in the absence of Fabio Fognini. It was a gamble to negate India’s ploy on grass, and it paid off, as the most senior side of the squad defeated Ramkumar and Prajnesh.
“I think I played two very good singles here from the beginning to end. I was very solid so I think I adapt very well to the grass. I like to play on this surface,” Seppi said.
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The 37-year-old further said he liked the shortened format of best-of-three sets. “I’m getting older. So for me, I think it’s better to play shorter matches. So the format is okay and also in two days maybe it gives me more time to go to the next tournament if you want to play and also after weekend if you don’t feel so. Davis Cup had a lot of tradition over 100 years and sometimes changes are good and sometimes not,” he said.
He also had a word of praise for the Indians. “Indian players are doing well. I mean they are around 100 in the rankings. For sure, they can improve more but of course they have better doubles players. Especially on the faster surface, they can do well. So we will see how they do this year,” he said.