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AITA on sticky wicket after shift in venue

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Tennis Federation will hold a crucial meeting on Wednesday to decide whether to appeal the decision of International Tennis Federation to shift the Davis Cup tie against India from Islamabad to a neutral venue.

By: PTI | New Delhi |
November 5, 2019 10:11:02 pm
The shift in venue for the Pakistan tie has brought relief as well as headache for the national tennis federation (AITA), the officials of which are now scratching their heads on team selection. (Representational Photo)

The shift in venue for the Pakistan tie has brought relief as well as headache for the national tennis federation (AITA), the officials of which are now scratching their heads on team selection.

The dynamics of the encounter has changed after the International Tennis Federation (ITF) shifted the tie out of Islamabad as top Indian players, who had refused to travel to Pakistan, are now interested to compete in the November 29-30 matches.

The All India Tennis Association (AITA) officials spent the day discussing whether top players should be asked for their availability or not because if they do so, it will amount to dumping the players, who showed their willingness to travel to Pakistan despite safety concerns.

The new captain Rohit Rajpal is keen to have a strong side at his disposal but does not want the players, who expressed their willingness to travel to Islamabad, to miss out. It has been learnt that Rajpal wants to take everyone along.

Veteran Leander Paes, Saketh Myneni, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan and N Sriram Balaji had all made themselves available for selection.

Save Paes, none of these players would be able to make it to the team because of their low ranking if top player Rohan Bopanna comes in the fray for selection. Paes is ranked 96th in the world and Bopanna, who refused the trip to Pakistan, is placed 39th.

Even if Bopanna and Paes are picked as a specialist pair as Divij Sharan (47) is taking a break, Jeevan (ranked 110) and Balaji (137) will miss out.

The AITA selection committee largely goes by the rankings while picking the Davis Cup squad, so ignoring Bopanna would be tough if he is willing to play.

In singles too, Myneni (266) and Arjun Kadhe (552) expressed their interests in competing in Islamabad but are ranked way below top players Sumit Nagal (career-best 129), Ramkumar Ramanathan (199) and Sasi Kumar Mukund (248).

If Nagal and Ramkumar are picked, Myneni and Kadhe will not find a place in the squad.

“It’s a tricky situation. It does not feel good to ditch players who were willing to risk lives and travel to Pakistan. How do you leave them out? But if top players are available, India should field a strong team, so it’s a catch 22 situation for AITA,” an official, closely monitoring the development, told PTI.

At least two top singles players confirmed to PTI that they are available for selection but have not been approached by the AITA.

The AITA is under no obligation to ask availability of top players because, in its communication on October 25, the federation had made it clear that only those players will be considered for selection on neutral venue who are ready to be picked for Islamabad tie.

“We want to beat Pakistan and that is our top priority. We definitely want a strong team but we don’t want those players to miss out who raised hands to travel to Pakistan,” Rajpal, who is Chairman of the selection committee, told PTI.

It has been learnt that team selection will depend on the surface chosen by Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF), which has five days to nominate the neutral venue. So, the Indian team won’t be selected before November 10.

Pakistan’s chances to get grass courts will be difficult on neutral venue and if hard courts are chosen, Nagal and Ramanathan will be priority singles players.

Myneni could go in as third singles player and also can play in doubles as well. In that case, Sasi Mukund will miss out, though he can be part of the squad as a reserve member.

If both Bopanna and Paes are picked then it will be interesting to see if they are willing to pair up since there have been frictions in the past between them.

Sources say, Paes could also be paired with left-handed Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, who has made a mark on the doubles circuit in the past two years.

Pak tennis body mulls appeal of ITF decision to shift Davis Cup tie against India to neutral venue

The Pakistan Tennis Federation will hold a crucial meeting on Wednesday to decide whether to appeal the decision of International Tennis Federation to shift the Davis Cup tie against India from Islamabad to a neutral venue.

The tie, set for November 29 and 30, was scheduled to be held in the Pakistani capital but the ITF on Monday decided that the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Group I game will be played at a neutral venue.

It was initially scheduled to be held in September but was delayed when India expressed concerns about the safety of their players due to the prevailing diplomatic tensions between the two nations after the revocation of Article 370.

“We will decide at the meeting our next line of action. We have the option of appealing the ITF decision. Our top players like Aisam ul Haq and Aqeel Khan had made it clear earlier they would not be available for selection if the tie is not played in Islamabad,” PTF President Saleem Saifullah said.

“It is a difficult situation for us. We have the option of selecting the neutral venue but it is difficult to find grass court venues now and if we have to play on hard courts it will be a big disadvantage to us,” he said.

Saifullah said he was disappointed with the Indian approach to the Davis Cup tie.

“India has only politicised a sports event. From what I have heard the AITA was prepared to send its team to Islamabad but did not get clearance from their government. So I classify it as politics,” Saifullah said.

He said the PTF had made elaborate security arrangements for the Davis Cup tie which was already postponed from mid-September to late November. “We were well prepared to host the event and we are still ready to do it. If they don’t want spectators we can do that. But now first we have to decide what to do. Whether to appeal or not,” he added.

Pakistan’s top player Qureshi has already said that he’s fed up with having to play home Davis Cup ties at neutral venues and would consider pulling out if the ITF shifted the venue out of the country.

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