Doubles world No. 3 Leander Paes will spearhead the Indian challenge once again, as most of the leading singles players expressed their unavailability owing to a conflict with the All India Tennis Association (AITA), for the Davis Cup Asia-Oceania group ‘I’ tie against Korea.
With Yuki Bhambri, Sanam Singh, Sriram Balaji, Vishnu Vardhan, Saketh Myneni and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, not available, the selectors who met here on Friday with Anil Dhupar as the Chairman, chose former national champion V.M. Ranjeet and Vijayant Malik, ranked 517 and 542 respectively, while opting for another doubles specialist in Purav Raja to make the team with Paes.
The 552nd ranked Somdev Devvarman, the only Indian to have broken into the top-100 of the ATP ranking since Paes in 1998, had also expressed his unavailability along with the doubles stars, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna.
Originally, only eight players had united in the revolt but Jeevan and Balaji also joined them to express their solidarity.
In fact, the AITA had further conceded to a lot of demands of the players, including business class air travel for all the four players for the Asia-Oceania tie, after having announced its revised benefits for the players earlier.
It had also stretched the deadline for expressing availability till 12 noon on Friday when the selection committee meeting was scheduled.
However, having made their view clear about having a change of captain and a coach of their choice, the players opted to stick to their stand of staying away from Davis Cup duty.
On its part, the AITA was unwilling to compromise on its stand of having S.P. Misra as the captain for the forthcoming tie, and Zeeshan Ali as the coach, as it insisted that it was its prerogative to select them.
The AITA had conceded to the request of the players to select a doctor and physiotherapist in consultation with them.
The AITA announced that the players would get a prize money of Rs. 24 lakh in case India beat Korea in the tie to be staged at the DLTA from February 1 to 3, and that the players would also be given about Rs. 14 lakh rupees towards their travel expenses.
The secretary general of the AITA, Bharat Oza, said that the stand of the players was unfair, and pointed out that the association had paid Rs. 34.69 lakh to Somdev Devvarman towards his travel, prize money and coach’s expenses for the ties against Russia, Brazil and Japan.
To put things in perspective, it was also pointed out that the AITA had spent Rs. 30.62 lakh for four ties on Rohan Bopanna and had paid Rs. 20.21 lakh for three ties to Mahesh Bhupathi.
Balram Singh, Rohit Rajpal, Zeeshan Ali and Sai Jayalakshmy were the others who attended the selection committee meeting, while Misra was consulted on phone in Hyderabad.
By restricting the choice of singles players to two, the AITA may have actually played the tie into the hands of Korea, which has Jeong Suk-young (338), Lim Yong-Kyu (438), Nam Ji-Sung (485) and Nam Hyun-Woo (609) as its leading players in singles.
The Union Sports Ministry had clarified that Prakash Amritraj, ranked 437, was not eligible, as its rules specified that only players with an Indian passport can represent the country.
The team: Leander Paes, V.M. Ranjeet, Vijayant Malik, Purav Raja.
Reserves: Ashwin Vijayaraghavan, Arjun Kadhe. Captain: S.P. Misra.
Coach: Zeeshan Ali.