The last time Somdev Devvarman and Leander Paes turned up together for Davis Cup duty,the Indian team which included the now sidelined Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna was bundled together in a rare happy huddle. As they beat Brazil in a World Group playoff,the squad achieved a first in Indian tennis history by winning a tie from 0-2 down. But since then,there have hardly been any moments of celebration for the India side and Devvarman and Paes have not shared the same Davis Cup dressing room in 30 months. Despite not being on the same page till as recently as a couple of months ago – Paes had refused to be a part of the player movement that Devvarman felt was necessary to improve Indian tennis – they now find themselves together against Indonesia,heading a team that fights relegation from Group 1 of the Asia-Oceania zone.
The equation between them is not the same as before and there is a world of difference in the team scenario since they last played together in 2010. The Brazil tie,which he played alongside Paes,was Devvarmans last as the youngest member in the squad,and he now leads the pack.
Bopanna has been phased out as the second singles option,and Paes finds himself in a slightly lonely place in a team that has neither his physio Sanjay Singh as team trainer nor his father Vece Paes,who had been presiding as team doctor almost since the 39-year-old made his India debut two decades ago. Even the other members of the current squad Yuki Bhambri,Sanam Singh,and even reserves such as Sriram Balaji are not on the same page as Paes. These players had refused to play the last tie against South Korea – a stand that Paes had openly criticised and seen as disrespecting the opportunity of representing India.
In the past two days,there have been efforts to paint the picture of a united,all-inclusive team,as has been the tradition for most Indian Davis Cup squads,but Paes ill-at-ease position is quite apparent.
For one,his participation among the group activities of this young bunch,which includes 19-year-olds Arjun Kadhe and Ramkumar Ramanathan,has been minimal. He chose to avoid the team outing on Tuesday night when the players and other support staff went bowling.
On Wednesday too,he continued to be conspicuous by his absence,first during the players warm-up and then at the first official team interaction,where the seat behind the placard with his name was empty. Captain SP Misra informed that Paes took a flight out to attend his daughters birthday in Mumbai and would be back for the draw ceremony on Thursday.
But Paes will be missed more at the team dinner,an occasion where the seniors welcome the younger members and traditionally conduct their initiation into the team. In his absence,Devvarman will take charge,as he has done throughout the day,getting the five other youngsters together for football matches among other activities.
When Paes is back,Devvarman,the ever reluctant leader,is likely to hand the limelight back to the veteran,who thrives in the role. The 28-year-old insists there was no bad blood because of their differences with respect to their relationship with the All India Tennis Association (AITA).
I had my reasons to take the stand that I did (of not playing the last tie) and he had his reasons to not agree with me and go ahead with what he believed. There have been differences of opinion but that doesnt mean there is any respect lost between us for each other as players because obviously he has a lot of credentials to his name, Devvarman says.
Having captained the two in the past as well,Misra also believes they will put up a united front In the past two days,they have held together well and the atmosphere has not reflected their differences, he says. I have my fingers crossed that it stays like this till the end of the tie.