With India's recent Davis Cup triumph against Chinese Taipei coming without the experience of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, the country's numero uno singles player Somdev Devvarman feels it is time that the focus shifts from the veteran duo to the youngsters.
India thrashed Chinese Taipei 5-0 in the Asia/Oceania Group I tie here and Somdev said although the team will forever remain grateful the contribution that Paes and Bhupathi made, the time has come to look ahead.
The 28-year-old, who is currently ranked 103rd in the ATP list, also spoke about his role in the players' revolt against the national federation and eventually founding of Indian Tennis Players' Association (ITPA) last year. In a free-wheeling chat with PTI, Somdev also said he would remain stubborn about his game not change anything about it.
Somdev Devvarman. Pic/ AFP
Excerpts from an interview.
Q: The best thing in this tie was team camaraderie. Isn't it good to not have groups in the Indian Davis Cup team. Leander or Mahesh not being there?
Ans: Let's not focus on Leander and Mahesh. Let's focus on the youngsters. Jeevan asked 15 times during and before and after my match what I need. And he knows I will do the same when he will play. So we are all here helping out each other. I think the focus should not be there on Leander or Mahesh. The focus should be on the group of guys who are here. The focus should be on the new captain. Because this is the future. We appreciate everything they have given us but now we need to move on. Mahesh has said he is done this year. Leander is a fantastic player, unfortunately he is not available for national duty this year but we will just go ahead. No matter, who is there or not there. We will try to make the best of whatever we have.
Q: Your game has always been of retrieving the ball and wearing out the opponent in long rallies. But there has been this criticism that you play defensive and it does not work against somebody who is going broke. How willing you are to tweak your game for better results?
Ans: Sport in general works a lot on momentum. When things are not going well for you, everything goes against you and when things are going for you, everything looks great. Tennis is a long season and a long career as well. It is important not to be discouraged, not to be disheartened by what's going on. I feel, I have got to where I have got because of my self-belief. Sometimes when there is lack of self-belief, then little things, like you said defense not working, come but when there is self-belief suddenly those things turn around really fast and you ask a different set of questions. In my experience, all it takes is a few matches for anything to swing things either way in terms of results. So, I am more focussed on staying healthy and playing my game. It's important for me to stay true to my game because that's what got me so far and will keep taking me ahead.
Q: So you are convinced that you don't need to bring that element of attack in your game?
Ans: There has to be a constant wish for improvement. No matter how far I am in my career, I will always tell you one of the things I need to do is improve myself. That I need to be more aggressive on my returns, that I need to come in more and put volleys away. But at the same time I cannot take away the whole identity of myself and my game. There will be a few points here and there, maybe 10 points in a match, that change. But for the majority of a match, 150 points that I play, will have to be played my way.
Q: Is it really difficult for a player to change the mindset?
Ans: It is extremely difficult. Yes, mentally it is the toughest thing to do for a player, to change the way they play. For a guy like Virender Sehwag to change his mindset and play like Rahul Dravid or vice versa, it is really tough. For a guy like Roger Federer to start playing more defensively. I think, any person who is good at his sport, to some extent, is stubborn.
Q: But when you did that against Ti Chen on second day, it worked wonders, and in 10 minutes the game was over? Ans: I agree with you. But it's not just one or two shots. It's how you approach your whole game. Sport is a funny thing. Sometimes one or two points here and there can change the outcome of the match.
Q: Going back to last month, you left Chennai an unhappy man and there was more than one reason. First, it was defeat against Ramkumar Ramanthan. Could you make out why you lost?
Ans: It was my first match of the season and he had played some 20 odd matches in November-December. So, he was definitely more match sharp than me. One thing we have got to do as seniors, we have to give credit the youngsters when they deserve it. For me, I did not play a great match and he did. As a professional you move on. You know it is one tournament and you have 30 more in the year. It's not something I am worried about. But at the same time I will try avoid that in future.
Q: Second thing was that you were unhappy with the organisers, you did not get a doubles wild card?
Ans: My agreement with the organisers is that everything will be in confidentiality and I don't want to break that. If they have broken that it, that's not my concern. We have sorted those differences and it is okay.
Q: We also hear that because of these differences, cracks are appearing in your players' association (IPTA)?
Ans: I would not say that. The players association has done three things in the past one year. We have done the camp in Hyderabad, we have raised about Rs 20 to 25 lakh for the players, we had an event in Bombay and now for the next eight tournaments, we are sending a physio for all the players. So we are doing little things which are key to players. I am on great terms with AITA and my aim is to try and make the scene in India better whether it is through this way or that. If AITA steps up, I will be the first one to be happy and say thank you. Now is an exciting time for Indian tennis. We have five potentially good guys playing in the Grand Slam Qualifiers. We have Saketh, Jeevan, Bala, Sanam and Yuki. If we as players come together and give these guys a push, we can really make it happen. So whether help comes from this side or that side, it does not make a difference. I am very glad that we started the Players' Association because we are not 100 per cent dependent on AITA. That being said, AITA has been stepping up. They sent a physio for Sania Mirza's camp, they sent Abhimnayu (fitness trainer) to help me. The players association is not, and I mean it, is not there to hurt anybody. It's only there to promote and get the best out of current players.
Q: So, despite the differences that have crept in among the founding members of the Association, the work will continue?
Ans: The core of the association is very strong. All the guys are on great terms. In Mumbai, we had Sania (Mirza) and Mahesh (Bhupathi) helping out. These are the things that have not been done before, so why not start now. Sometimes people say to go ahead, you push other person down. Why push each other down, help him up and both of you help each other up. This is how the Spanish guys do and the French guys do. This year at the Australian Open, there were 16 French guys were in the main draw. We are not there and only way to get there is to help each other out. And if that happens, it would be a dream come true for Indian tennis.
Q: How hopeful you are that differences with Karti Chidambaram will be sorted out?
Ans: He has his own things in mind and I have my own things and they don't even clash. My life is normal with or without him and without his support. He is a part of the association. He is doing a decent job. He has helped out Ramkumar, Balaji and Jeevan. For me what is between friends, stays between friends. I accept him for who he is. My life journey continues.
Q: Will you come and compete in Chennai Open next year? We heard you may not be there?
Ans: It's a long way off. I have no idea, another 11 months away. If my ranking is good enough, surely I would.
Q: Leander recently said that he is sandwiched between the AITA and a section of players, who want to overthrow the AITA, so he has withdrawn from that group. Apparently, he was referring to you guys?
Ans: With Leander, you got to ask him for a clear answer. I don't have a problem with him. I know he made a few comments but sometimes things can be blown out of proportion with one line. For me, I am not too bothered about that. My work continues with Association, my works continues with AITA. We don't feel we are obligated to get help. That's why the association is important so we can try and help each other.