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Back-up cast needs a boost

GENOA (ITALY), April 6: Indian tennis has just one lesson to learn all these years. And, after the Davis Cup World Group tie against Italy, ...

Written by SK John |
April 7, 1998

GENOA (ITALY), April 6: Indian tennis has just one lesson to learn all these years. And, after the Davis Cup World Group tie against Italy, the lesson still remains unlearnt. The ever-increasing reliability on two players have been both our triumph and tragedy. And, with just one man, the back-up cast did their bit, yet it was simply not enough.

Prahlad Srinath and Syed Fazaluddin had not played at this level in their careers. And, it was simply foolish on anybody’s part to to think that they would transform themselves into a Leander Paes overnight. Players like Paes come only in a hundred years and if Srinath and Fazaluddin had to do something creditable, they had to play consistently at this level.

Srinath, for one, has been struggling at the Satellite level and even with that level of tennis he managed to take a set off Andrea Gaudenzi. The Italian, who had practised with Thomas Muster for the last two years, was simply too strong for the Indians. His returns were not quick as it was heavy which madecontrolling the returns all the more difficult.

And, if a player like Srinath has to match Gaudenzi, he’s got to play at least at the Tour level. For that he has to have enough points. To gain points he has to travel. If he has to travel, he has to have money. Now, where will that come from? If a player like Paes has been struggling for eight years before he could make a mark on the Tour, the likes of Srinath have to put in much more effort.

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Where is the support to put in that effort? A case in point is the Gold Flake Open which began in Chennai today. Bhupathi is the only Indian to get in with a wild card. In other countries, wild cards are first given to players of the host nation. Here, both Srinath and Fazaluddin lost out because the organisers didn’t want unsung Indians on the main draw.

Apparently, one wild card has gone to a South African with a lot of promise!This means that the two Davis Cuppers lost out on playing the qualifying and the wild cards, thus depriving them of an opportunity toplay the Tour event. The two matches here would have given Srinath tremendous confidence, but where does he go from here? May be, to his hometown Mysore to go through the motion of hitting tennis balls.

Sure, his morale went for a toss after he was informed here that he was not among the wild cards at Chennai. But he is hoping that he will get a wild card at least at the Vadodara Challenger! After that, he intends to play in the European clay court circuit and the American hard court. “I should not give up so fast,” he says.

Meanwhile, Fazaluddin goes back to the United States to pursue his studies. When the time for play-off comes around, they would be herded back into the squad. Hopefully, there won’t be any injuries during September, but the way the two, Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi are playing, they don’t seem to believe in the concept of rest!

In fact, too much tennis has been cited as one of the major reasons for Paes’ tendinitis. Despite the doctors’ advice for a rest of four weeks, Paes is alreadyback to playing, beginning with the Chennai event. Hopefully, the injury has healed to an extent that he would feel comfortable playing both singles and doubles. Or rather, is it a case of putting too much pressure on the bloke to play the only Tour event in the country?

Mahesh Bhupathi, who won the only point for India in this tie, has relished the role he played as the number one player, describing the atmosphere of the Davis Cup to his inexperienced colleagues. “I had to be a lot more responsible in this tie because with Leander as the leader he always used to do the talking part. It has been fun and it taught me many things,” Bhupathi said.

There are, however, many things to be learnt if India has to earn a permanent place in the Davis Cup World Group.

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