Indian Davis Cup captain Mahesh Bhupathi Saturday rued that tennis had never got the kind of support that boxing or wrestling got from the government, urging them to include men’s singles players in Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS). Keeping the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in mind, the sports ministry has included the doubles duo of Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan, who won the Asian Games gold last year, have been kept in TOPS scheme.
“I know Rohan and Divij have been approved by TOPS but the singles boys need to get that support. That’s the bottomline,” Bhupathi told reporters after India’s 1-3 defeat to Italy in the Davis Cup Qualifiers at Calcutta South Club.
“The government needs to step up and support tennis. I know they are supporting a lot of sports. They are supporting hockey, wrestling, boxing but tennis has not got that support yet,” Bhupathi lamented.
“It’s not easy for AITA to support them as they don’t have a revenue source of money. I think the government have a lot of schemes likes TOPS, NSDF…”
In the singles, left-hander Prajnesh Gunneswaran has made rapid progress, achieving a career high 102 from a lowly 243 at the start of 2018. There’s also world number 133 Ramkumar Ramanathan, who is the second ranked Indian at the moment along with former world number 83 Yuki Bhambri who is recovering from an injury.
“Rome was not built in a day. I think the story for Indian tennis is changing. We have got three boys who can compete at this level, something we never had for a long time. There’s still potential especially for the singles boys.”
India looked to upset on grass, an unfamiliar territory for Italy but the script went on expected lines as they won three of their singles rubbers to seal the issue 3-1 to make the November’s World Finals in Madrid.
“We got to respect the Italians. We all knew how big a heavyweight team they are. they showed that today. He hit three aces in a row at 5-3 (in the second set),” Bhupathi said referring to Andreas Seppi’s 6-1 6-4 win over Prajnesh Gunneswaran that booked their Finals berth.
In what could be his last media interaction as the non-playing captain if his contract is not renewed, Bhupathi who took charge in 2017 said: “I took this job because I knew we had a significant depth in our team. I will continue to give my feedback.”
Asked if making the World Group was the maximum they could achieve, Bhupathi said: “Everybody needs to live in the real world. It’s a sport competed among 190 countries. Are there any team in Madrid without a top-100 singles player? I doubt.”
“These boys are working themselves up. Once we have a fully fit team I don’t see why we can’t make Madrid. We can’t expect miracles in sport. That’s not the way it works.”
India overcame some nervy moments in the doubles when the formidable pair of Bopanna and Sharan fought back the opening set deficit to defeat Simone Boelleli and Matteo Berrettini 4-6 6-3 6-4 in an one-hour 43 minutes battle.
“It is like going to office for me, I have been doing this since 2002 in the Davis Cup. I am used to being down 30-40 on serve. In that situation I just play to my strengths,” Bopanna said. They may not be used to playing on grass but the side-captained by Corrado Barazzutti found themselves at home. “We don’t have a grass in Italy. We have a garden. We don’t play tennis in the garden,” the 1976 Davis Cup winner quipped when asked whether they have a secret grass court back home in Italy.
World number 37 Andreas Seppi spearheaded their challenge after Italy omitted no 19 Marco Cecchinato their top-ranked player in absence of Fabio Fognini. It was a gamble to negate India’s ploy on grass and it paid off as the seniormost side of the squad won defeated Ramkumar Ramanathan and Prajnesh Gunneswaran in their 3-1 win.
“I think I played two very good singles here from the beginning to end. I was very solid so I think I adapt very well to the grass. I like to play on this surface,” Seppi said.
The 37-year-old further said the he liked the shortened format of best of three sets. “I’m getting older. So for me, I think it’s better to play shorter matches. So the format is okay and also in two days may be it gives me more time to go to the next tournament if you wanna play and also after weekend if you don’t feel so. Davis cup had a lot of tradition over 100 years and sometimes changes are good and sometimes not.”
He also had a word of praise for the Indians and said: “Indian players are doing well I mean they are around 100 in the rankings. For sure they can improve more but of course they have better doubles players. Especially on the faster surface they can do well. So we’ll see how they do this year.”