Anand Amritraj, who has been the Davis Cup team’s non-playing captain since 2014, has been asked to step down after India’s zonal tie against New Zealand in February. Mahesh Bhupathi has been named his replacement for the 2017-2018 season. Zeeshan Ali, meanwhile, will continue as the coach.
With names of former Davis Cup stars Ramesh Krishnan and Nandan Bal doing rounds for the past few days, the All India Tennis Association’s decision to opt for Bhupathi comes as a surprise.
AITA secretary Hironmoy Chatterjee informed that there was no presentation by candidates and the ‘selection committee’ finalised on Bhupathi after an internal discussion. “We sat with the list of all the players who have played Davis Cup for India and then narrowed down on ‘eligible’ names. Once Bhupathi’s name was agreed by the committee members, I called him to check if he was interested. He said ‘yes’,” Chatterjee said. When he was asked the reason for the switch, he muttered, “Everybody should get a chance to be captain.”
Last month, in an interview to this paper, Chatterjee has said that Amritraj would be asked to leave because of indiscipline in the team under his captaincy. “I discussed it (disciplinary issues) with coach and captain and I said there can’t be a free-for-all… journalists are going to the dressing room, girl friends are going to the dressing room. I said it can’t happen that way. There are certain disciplines (sic) that need to be maintained during a tie. Anyway, we will discuss everything and members will take a call about Anand’s future,” he had said. Within days of this statement, India’s Davis Cup players wrote a letter to AITA, insisting that they didn’t want any change in the support staff.
On Thursday, Chatterjee denied both. He said there weren’t any disciplinary issues under Amritraj and AITA did not receive any letter from the players. It is also learnt that the governing body did not consult any player before naming the new non-playing captain although it shouldn’t be a problem.
The new coach Bhupathi enjoys a rapport with all players on the team, except one: Leander Paes. Two of India’s biggest stars have been part of several acrimonious off-court controversies. For more than a decade and a half there hasn’t been an Olympics when the two haven’t had differences over who they would want to partner. Though, a week back Bhupathi had tweeted a picture of him and Paes attending their daughters’ school annual day, with a hashtag “Tokyo 2020.”
This recent show of bonhomie hasn’t been able to change opinions. Many within the federation say that Bhupathi’s appointment is an indirect message to Paes to hang up his boots, at least in Davis Cup. The Pune tie against New Zealand, a top AITA official said, could be Paes’ last. The 43-year-old has been chasing the elusive record of most number of doubles wins in Davis Cup. Paes is currently tied with Italy’s Nicola Pietrangly with 42 wins.
He has been named in the squad for the New Zealand tie in place of Rohan Bopanna. “If he wins, he will have the record and with Mahesh as the new captain, we might see him retire from Davis Cup,” the official said. But several factors will come into play if Paes is still around when Bhupathi takes over. As the captain, will Bhupathi continue to back Bopanna, like he always has as a player? Will Paes, always the leader on court, play under Bhupathi. “We will cross that bridge when it comes,” Chatterjee said.