Losing to Korea was not a new experience for the Indian Davis Cup team, for the best of players had failed to crack the Korean fitness over the years. In fact, Korea enjoys a 6-3 win-loss record against India from 1978 till Sunday.
The most agonising defeat was in 1999, when India lost 2-3 at Seogwipo City in Korea with Mahesh Bhupathi losing the fifth rubber 7-6(5), 1-6, 1-6, 1-6 to the captain of the current squad, Yoon Yong-Il.
Some of the early cracks in the partnership between Leander Paes and Bhupathi developed at that time, as Paes was critical in the media that his partner had lost, despite superior tennis skills, because of lack of physical fitness.
Paes had tamed Lee Hyung Taik, the Korean spearhead in the first of reverse singles then, after winning the doubles, to keep the tie alive.
Then in 2006, Lee Hyung Taik showed his firepower by beating Prakash Amritraj for the loss of four games and Rohan Bopanna for the loss of six games as Korea prevailed 4-1 in Changwon. Losing at home to the Koreans was also not novel as India had lost 1-4 in Bharuch in 1989. But, losing at the DLTA Complex was new, though it was a foregone conclusion after 11 players had opted out as part of their campaign to set the All India Tennis Association (AITA) in order.
While Paes clinched the fifth rubber in 1991 to help India prevail 3-2, he had won two singles and a doubles match with rookie Vishal Uppal in 2000 to ensure victory. Incidentally both those ties were on grass and the Koreans were at sea trying to cope with the variable bounce. Times had changed as India was playing on slow synthetic surface at the same venue, with a team that would qualify to play in Group ‘II’. The only constant factor was the crowd, and the patriotism and passion of the spectators was seen to be believed, even though there was no hope that V.M. Ranjeet or Vijayant Malik would enact any miracle.
The AITA may be a favourite punching bag for many, but there was no doubt that the leading players got their priorities mixed up and let the country down. They did not realise that they were refusing to play for India and not AITA.
It was sad that someone like Somdev Devvarman, who had got a wild card to compete in the London Games, and the Grand Slams with his injury protected ranking recently, opted to lead the youngsters astray, for possibly a little more leg room in air travel, which was not given to him in writing.
It may be recalled that Indian cricket faced a similar situation in 1989, when K. Srikkanth led the team to Pakistan.
The likes of Kapil Dev and Mohinder Amarnath had decided then that India would play the series with the players refusing to take any fee, about Rs. 60,000 for the whole series, just to prove that they were not fighting for money. Indian cricket’s financial empire and the well-being of the players over the years were built on a solid foundation of such a healthy protest.
The tennis players, who have lost a lot of fans, should realise that they are not doing any favour to anyone in not representing the country. For once, the AITA was not in the firing line, as it was helpless, as the players clung on to a lame excuse that assurances were not given in writing.
In trying to catch the media attention and highlight their grievances in a strong way, the players have trapped themselves in quicksand. The harder they try to justify their stand, the deeper that they will sink.