On the day, AITA named Mahesh Bhupathi as new Davis Cup coach, the incumbent Anand Amritraj spoke to The Indian Express. Excerpts:
What do you make of the decision?
Considering that Zeeshan (Ali, team captain) is staying on for another of couple years, there was absolutely no reason for a change. Nobody, till this day, has been able to give me a reason. Other than the fact, that for some stupid reason that, ‘oh everybody should have a chance to be Davis Cup captain.’ That’s not a reason. Apparently, Hironmoy Chatterjee (AITA secretary general) said it in a press conference this evening, that everybody should be given a chance. That’s not a reason. That’s the most stupid reason I’ve ever heard. They’re not saying that indiscipline was a factor, or my comments during the Spain tie was a factor.
You’re the skipper in the first tie against New Zealand, and then Mahesh Bhupathi takes over captaincy. How do you see that move?
I had been requested to stay for one more year. Because we had done well in the last few years, the team was happy. So I agreed and then I’d step down, and you can appoint whoever you want. It’s kind of amazing because till yesterday I didn’t even know Mahesh was interested. His name was never heard of. I didn’t know he was that interested. But it was an interesting decision to split up the year.
How do you feel Bhupathi will impact the team once he comes on board?
I don’t know. I knew him when he was much younger. I really haven’t spent much time with him for the past seven or eight years. I’ve only seen him at Wimbledon once in a way, or at Indian Wells for 15 minutes, so not like I spent a lot of time with him. But we always got along decently well. I think personally, he’s going to have a hard act to follow. Without sounding too cocky, I can say that he’s going to have a hard act to follow. Because the rapport between me and the players has been excellent. So for him to come on board and try to take on the reigns is not going to be that easy. But the rest of the team is in place. Zeeshan is still there, the other three boys are still there, Saketh (Myneni), Yuki (Bhambri) and Ramkumar (Ramanathan). They were all in support of me being captain. They all signed that letter that was sent to the AITA. That’s all I can say.
Since Bhupathi retired fairly recently, the current players would have seen him play. Will that help in them understanding him and getting used to his style?
They know him as a player, but they don’t yet know him as a captain. It’s still two completely different things, in my opinion. As a captain you have to put the players first. That’s the main thing. And I always did, I made sure I took care of their welfare, both on and off the court. That’s the main thing, you’ve got to put your players first. And when you’re a player, you have to put yourself first. I did, I’m sure Mahesh did. So as a player you have to be selfish to some extent. It’s different to know him as a player, and to know him as a captain. I’m curious to see the interactions between him and Leander (Paes). That’ll be really interesting. They’ve been at odds for the last 20 years. I’m curious to see how that plays out.
You too had to deal with a conflict, Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes just after the Olympics selection episode. The results that followed came out well…
Korea, on grass in Chandigarh, well if they lost a set I would have been surprised. When you play a world class team, it’s a whole different story. Chandigarh, on grass against two Korean guys. They didn’t even field their best team. Their best player in my opinion had cramps the previous day, so he didn’t even play. So that was not a good indicator. So if they played a good team, like Nadal and Lopez or something like that, then I would have liked to see how they had performed. But it’ll still be interesting to see the dynamics between Mahesh and Leander when Mahesh comes in.
In this case, the captain and player have a direct history. How does one deal with that?
I don’t know how. But they have to put their personal differences aside at this point. Whatever differences they had. I don’t know what it is, but finally it all comes down to ego and putting it aside. It was kind of difficult between Rohan and Leander earlier. The relationship between them was always, well, they were both used to being the top dog. It’s not easy. They were individually great doubles players, but they never gelled as a team, in my opinion.
Myneni and Paes to pair up as doubles for the first tie…
They played brilliantly (against Spain). That was one of the best matches I’ve seen in a long time. They were unlucky to lose and they both played brilliantly. No two ways about that. But bear in mind, Leander was the head honcho, the top dog on the court. And Saketh followed his lead and that’s why it worked. I knew they would play well because there’s no clash in personalities. And I might look at the possibility of playing them again against New Zealand.