Mumbai: Looking back at India’s unsuccessful campaign to enter the World Group in Davis Cup, former India tennis captain Vijay Amritraj today said it was crucial for the singles players to break into the top 100 of rankings. “For us to get into the World Group it’s absolutely critical to have players in the top 100. Otherwise it’s hard to push through in four singles matches,” said Amritraj when asked about India’s 1-3 defeat against top seeds Czech Republic in Delhi last week in the World Group play-off tie.
“If you have players in the top 100, preferably in the top 50, then we can push these guys and on a particular day you could actually win. Otherwise it becomes rather difficult,” explained the 61-year-old tennis ace. “It was a real boost after the first day. The first day was unbelievable. I think that’s what Davis Cup is meant to be, the way Som (Somdev Devvarman) won that (his) first match (second singles of the day) against Jiri Vesley (of Czech Republic).
“It was very disappointing on second day, unfortunately (when Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna surprisingly lost in the doubles), but again you are talking about the no.1 team in the world and we are ranked 21,” he elaborated. Amritraj said the important thing was to find a lot many players to push at each other and burst on to the world scene like some European countries’ players.
“We got to consistently look for some more players. Yuki (Bhambri) is having a good run, though he had a little bit of a setback in the Davis Cup (against the Czechs when he lost both his singles matches). But he did well in New Zealand (in the earlier tie), but did not quite fire up in Delhi.
“If you look at our tennis as a whole it’s critical to have dozens of players coming through at a younger age. You can’t always have one person coming up every ten years. “It’s important to have that push at a younger age in bunches, like the French, Spaniards and Swedes. All of them keep pushing themselves and then half a dozen of them rise to the top.”
Asked about how long veteran Paes can stretch his career, Amritraj said as long as the player had the desire to play well and stayed fit. “It’s the desire to play, If he wants to play and if he is fit enough to play, he should continue.” He pointed out from his own experience that doubles play did not drain out a player as much as singles.
“When you are playing doubles, it does not really put so much effort on your own body for a longer duration of time. If you can play for 20-25 weeks in a season, playing for two-three weeks and then taking a week off. It’s not like 25 weeks in singles, that’s a totally different ball game altogether.”
He, however, conceded that a player was the last to realise he has slowed down. “You can continue to play as long as you can make that first volley well within the service line. That’s a critical element of doubles; you saw the difference between (Adam) Pavlasek and the (Indian) boys in getting to the net. You don’t want to make that first volley behind the service line. You want to make it inside the service line.
“The interesting thing about our sport is after playing singles and doubles every week for 25 years the last person to realise that you are half a step slow getting to the ball is yourself. Till the matches tell you repeatedly that you are slow getting to the ball, you keep playing.
“I played for such a long period of time, including being hurt and otherwise, but I was playing singles and doubles every week. It made a big difference to what hit the body. I was very fortunate and privileged to have played for such a long time.”
To a pointed question about the doubles team for the Rio Olympics, Amritraj said that it was not his decision but his brother, erstwhile doubles partner and India’s non-playing Davis Cup captain, Anand’s.
“That’s not my pick. I was watching him sweat there, pulling his hair out on what to tell these guys on that day,” said Amritraj with a laugh. “It really comes down to how each of them feels playing with one another,” he added.