Leander Paes and Zeeshan Ali
New Delhi: Indian tennis hit another low on Friday when the All India Tennis Association (AITA) was forced to name one of its weakest-ever Davis Cup squads.
The four-member squad comprising Leander Paes, Virali Murugesan Ranjit, Vijayant Malik, and Purav Raja was announced soon after it was clear that none of the eight top players were ready to make themselves available unless the AITA met their demands.
Contrary to AITA’s claims that at least two to three rebel players would agree to switch allegiance, two more players — Sriram Balaji and national hardcourt champion Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan — are believed to have expressed their inability to join the squad. Both the players are currently training in Germany.
The revolt of the players, which included some big names like Mahesh Bhupathi, Rohan Bopanna Somdev Dev Varman, Yuki Bhambri and Vishnu Vardhan, have certainly made India a below par side for the February 1 to 3 tie against South Korea in Delhi.
Barring Paes, currently ranked third in doubles, the other three players are yet to prove their mettle on the big stage. While 27-year-old Murugesan Ranjeet is ranked 517 in the world, Vijayant Malik is 542 in singles and 967 in doubles. Purav Raja, who is mainly a doubles player, is placed 155.
AITA was forced to pick up the depleted side after eight players submitted a list of demands, which included the change of captain (SP Mishra) for the Korea tie.
AITA agreed to meet most of the demands including higher share of prize money, but it was not enough to convince the disgruntled players.
There were indications that some officials, including a vice president, were backing the rebel players from behind the scenes to grab power in the AITA.
The national body, however, continued with Mishra as the non-playing captain and appointed Zeeshan Ali as the coach much against the wishes of the senior players.
Hoping that players will have a change of mind, AITA waited till noon on Friday before announcing the squad. Also a member of the selection committee, coach Zeeshan said he was “hurt” by the rebel players’ decision to reject him as the coach.
“This is a young team… I am sure we will do well under the guidance of Leander,” Zeeshan said.
“I don’t think that my credentials was an issue. If that was the case, the AITA would not have nominated my name for the job. I am into coaching for a long time… Definitely I am hurt,” he added.
The right-hander, who had touched a career-high singles ranking of 126 in December 1988, said it would be a huge challenge to guide the side under the prevalent circumstances.
“It will be a huge challenge but I am going to give my best,” he said.
Zeeshan, who did coaching in Dubai for 10 years before shifting base to Bangalore, said that it was difficult to predict how the tie would unfold for India.
“We gave them the opportunity to reconsider their stand. We tried everything, what more we could do,” AITA chief executive officer Hironmoy Chatterjee said.
Surprisingly, the AITA officials avoided any discussion on about taking action against the revolting players. They did not eve rule out the possibility of these players coming back to the team in future.
“This squad is only for the Korea tie,” said Bharat Oza, the secretary general of the AITA. “As far as taking action against the players is concerned, it has to be discussed at the executive committee,” he added.