Anand Amritraj, the former India captain and key member of the team that made the Davis Cup final twice, said Indian tennis players are taking the easy way out by focusing on doubles at the expense of their singles careers.
“It is a trend I have noticed over the past 10 years,” said Amritraj, 67, at the centenary celebrations of the Calcutta South Club here on Saturday. This was Amritraj’s first visit to the South Club after 1986 when he was part of the India team that played Czechoslovakia in the Davis Cup.
“Legs and mental strength go into the making of a singles player and I think you should focus on doubles after turning 30,” said Amritraj whose career-high singles ranking was 74 in 1974, also the year India conceded the Davis Cup final to South Africa.
India’s inability to produce top-100 players is why Davis Cup has been an uphill struggle now, said Amritraj. “You need two top-100 players in the squad; actually one top-50 and another in the top 100,” said Amritraj.
The three singles players chosen for the tie against Croatia next month — Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Sumit Nagal and Ramkumar Ramanathan — are ranked 124, 126 and 180 respectively. Among the trio, Gunneswaran, 30, is the only one who has broken into the top-100 men’s singles players having reached a career-high of 75 last year. There are three more Indians — Sasikumar Mukund, Saket Myneni and Sidharth Rawat — in the top-500 of the men’s game.
One crucial difference between Amritraj’s era and now is that in his time around 600 players comprised the Tour. The number now is 1934. Then there is the question of expense. Nagal, who took a set off Roger Federer at the last US Open, was quoted as saying in the Mint newspaper that it would take him around $150,000 to compete for one season.
Lack of tournaments in India too do not help, said Ramesh Krishnan. “It is not the only reason but now even holding Challengers have become so costly,” said Ramesh Krishnan. In 2020, India is hosting one Challenger event and Tata Open in Pune is its only ATP calendar event.
“Unlike in our time, tennis has now become Europe-centric,” said Krishnan, whose highest singles rank was 23 in 1985 and who entered the Wimbledon quarter-final in 1986.
To that, Ramanathan Krishnan, India’s most successful singles player ever, added the lack of quality coaches. “The South Club would stand out because of its coaches. You had S Matthews, Dilip Bose and then Akhtar Ali who has produced so many Davis Cup players,” said Krishnan Senior.
The Krishnans and Amritraj gave the thumbs down to the altered format of the 100-year-old Davis Cup whose final round was held in Madrid last year. “I opposed it then and I oppose it now. All my friends, among them Lleyton Hewitt, opposed it. People seemed to have liked it but I am a traditionalist in this sense,” said Amritraj.
“I think we are confusing people. You have the Laver Cup, the ATP Cup and now the Davis Cup. That is three team events in an individual sport,” said Amritraj.
The Laver is played between Team Europe and Team World; the ATP Cup is played in Australia and is a competition between nations as is the Davis Cup.
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