Here we go again! The All India Tennis Association (AITA) is back in the news, this time with reference to the demands made by eight of the top players in the country other than Leander Paes.
Watching from the sidelines as the current scenario unfolds, it seems that the AITA is struggling to come to terms with the fact that times have changed and in this day and age, players will no longer remain mute spectators while a domineering big brother, who has raised the ‘divide and rule’ principle to a fine art, determines their future.
Let’s look at their four principal demands: change of support staff, coach and captain and a say in the choice of venue. As regards the support staff, consisting of Dr Vece Paes, Leander’s father, and Sanjay Singh, the masseur/trainer/physio, the feeling of the players is (a) that both are Leander-specific (in fact both owe their position to Leander’s insistence that they be included); and (b) after 20 years, both are way beyond their shelf life. The players want young, dynamic, up-to-the-minute professionals to replace them. Who can argue with that?
A say in the venue is critical — the players want a surface and environment that allows them to perform at their best, whereas with the AITA, commercial considerations are paramount. When Leander was a key singles player, grass was the obvious choice, but today the players who can deliver singles points are Somdev Devvarman, Rohan Bopanna and Yuki Bhambri, all of whom are comfortable on other surfaces. It therefore stands to reason that their preference should prevail over commercial considerations.
The players have not accepted AITA’s choice of former national champion Zeeshan Ali as coach in place of Nandan Bal. The fact that Zeeshan has been in Dubai for the last 10 years and has zero knowledge of the current crop speaks for itself. The players want Yuki Bhambri’s travelling coach Aditya Sachdeva, but this will be shot down by the AITA, who would prefer a coach whom they can influence. As such, a mutually acceptable coach will be hard to find.
Regarding the captaincy, veteran SP Misra’s age and a nature subservient to the AITA went against him. A no-nonsense captain like Anand Amritaj, with vast Davis Cup experience and with no personal axe to grind, would be ideal. With less than a month to go before the Korea tie, the AITA had better swallow their ego and quickly hammer out an acceptable formula that places the interests of Indian tennis and the players above everything else. As that would involve too violent a mindset change after 47 years of a dynastic reign over the AITA, I would offer ten to one against that happening!