In a candid, wide-ranging e-mail interview, India’s Davis Cup star and Commonwealth gold medallist Somdev Devvarman shares his thoughts from Dubai on the problems with AITA and the contemporary tennis scene.
You are the focal point of the debate involving players and administration. What led to this confrontation?
The players have had grievances with the AITA going back to the ’70s and ’80s. The only difference is now we all are on the same page. We’ve tried to tackle this problem in different ways; now we’ve come to the conclusion to do it together. We’re facing very similar problems as players; problems we faced as juniors that are continuing even today as professionals on tour. So trying to tackle this in the best possible way is the most important thing for us.
Are you satisfied with AITA’s response?
Not really. The AITA has once again disappointed me. I’m pretty sure they’ve disappointed all the others too. I don’t think they are actually happy with it. They said it’ll be the captain’s farewell tie against Korea. Now they say he’s going to be the next captain.
These problems were unheard of years ago; say in the sixties or later. Why now?
I don’t think that the AITA has ever been without problems. They’ve obviously not been as big as now. But I’ve heard of similar problems from a lot of the former players from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s. The nature of the problem was different. I think back then the administration did a better job at making sure that the players were happy. But I think now we’ve reached a point where we feel, as players, that the administration does not care.
My discussions with other players have led us to ask for a completely fair team; a team that does not have any single member who has a bias for or against another player. Unfortunately in the past we’ve had team members who’ve been a little partial to certain players and I don’t think anybody appreciates that. We want to get to a point where all members in the team are there not because of any loyalty reasons but because they do a good job and they want to accomplish what we want to accomplish and because they deserve to be there solely on merit. That’s what we want to accomplish with the whole system in the AITA and Davis Cup and Fed Cup.
Why were you insistent on change of manager-coach?
I think it’s important that there are always ways to improve and this should be a continuous process. It has always been like that, but right now we’ve reached a point where things are stagnant. This is really starting to annoy players. We see some very obvious shortcomings. First, we need to fix those and after that there’s always going to be ways for things to get better.
That’s just the way life is, our everyday life, we look for ways to get better and improve things for those around us. That’s going to be an ongoing process and hopefully we get to a point where the players in the future really feel that the association and the rest of the group involved are actually doing a good job and putting in a good effort in promoting the game in the country.
Were you distracted from the game while trying to establish player power?
No. Not at all. The most important goal for me is to stay injury free, to keep getting stronger, fitter and better. Once that happens the game will take care of itself. I’m trying to stay focused and healthy. So far, this year has been the best start I’ve had since I turned pro. I’m happy with the way things have started. It’s going to be a challenge for me to continue at this level. I’m going to do my best.
In terms of the struggle with the AITA, I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m really clear about what I want and how I want to move forward. So in that sense I feel great about everything. I know all the players are on my side. I speak honestly and I give everybody my sincerity. There’s absolutely no distraction and when anyone comes up to me to speak about this subject it’s just a very easy answer because I’m always completely honest.
Your reaction to criticism that staying away from the Davis Cup was against national interest
The first question I’d like to ask the people who are criticising us is “what exactly is patriotism”? Is patriotism only when you play for the country? Can you not be patriotic at other times? As far as I’m concerned, I take a lot of time and effort from my personal life to make sure that I give back as much as I possibly can to different places.
From the tennis standpoint, for me it was very easy to stay away because in my eyes this was the right decision for Indian tennis. It’s something that’s been bothering me and bothering the other players for so long that we felt like our best contribution to Indian tennis was to stay away and fight the battle that we think is worth fighting and really try and make a difference. The way we, the players, look at it is that we’ve sacrificed a lot. It’s not easy to stay away but we did it for a reason and that is to make the whole system better.
How do you view the current international scene?
International tennis has changed a lot over the last 10 years or so. Even from the time Federer won in 2007, 5-6 years ago, the game has changed so much — the courts, the surface, the balls, the strings, the equipment that come out. What we need to understand is that the guys on top are doing an extremely good job, a much better job than anybody else in adapting to the game.