Off-court issues dominated scene

The year 2013 will remain indelible in the history of Indian tennis. Sadly it is the players’ revolt and their boycott of Davis Cup tie that will weigh heavily against the some good on-court showing by the Indians.

The positives were many -- Somdev Devvarman’s comeback, Leander Paes’s strong showing at 40, Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna enhancing their reputation in doubles, Yuki Bhambri breaking through the ranks towards the end of the year and the emergence of Divij Sharan and Purav Raja on the international circuit.

But the refusal of the top players to turn out for national duty was a low that could have been avoided. If the selection controversy in the Olympic year was not enough, the All Indian Tennis Association (AITA) found itself in another embarrassing situation at the start of the year.

Except Paes, all the Davis Cup regulars, including the youngsters, were engaged in a bitter row with the AITA over better playing conditions, revised agreement for distribution of Davis Cup prize money, change in support staff, and a strong say in the choice of venue and surface.

The top 11 players led by Somdev Devvarman, and supported by the likes of Mahesh Bhupathi and Bopanna, boycotted the tie against South Korea (Feb 1-3) in Delhi, after they found AITA’s offer to their demands unsatisfactory. It forced India to field a second string team, that lost 1-4. For good measure, they returned to play in the relegation play off tie against Indonesia in Bangalore after AITA conceded to most of their demands. That saw India win 5-0 and stay in Group 1.

The players’ rebellion also brought many changes. Non-playing captain S P Misra had to step down despite AITA throwing its weight behind him. He was later replaced by Anand Amritraj while coach Nandan Bal made way for Zeeshan  Ali. The tussle also led to the birth of Indian Tennis Players Association (ITPA), which will look to handle contemporary issues left unaddressed by the AITA.

However, once the controversy was over, tennis took centrestage.

Somdev returned from a shoulder injury after almost a year and took rapid strides. Once ranked 62 in the world, he fell to No. 656 in the 2012 year-end ranking. But within 10 months, the 28-year-old leapfrogged more than 550 spots to No 90 in ATP rankings. He achieved success in tour level events and on the ATP Challenger circuit, where he reached the semi-finals of four events. He also advanced to the second round of French Open and the US Open. It was on the back of such performances that he won the nomination for the ATP Comeback Player of the Year, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Rafael Nadal for the trophy.

Old warhorse Paes brought more cheers when he partnered Czech Radek Stepanek to win his third men’s doubles title at the US Open — eighth in men's doubles and 14th overall. At 40, he became the oldest man to win a Grand Slam title.

Sania enjoyed one of her best years in doubles winning five titles with different partners and reached No 9 in rankings.

Bopanna too hit a career high ranking of No 3 in July after making it to the semifinal of Wimbledon with Eduard Roger Vasselin. Next year he will team up with old partner Aisam ul Haq Qureshi.

Yuki gave a sterling showing on the Challenger circuit. He won his career's second Challenger title in Traralgon, Australia and made it to the final in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Following India’s tradition in doubles, Divij and Purav won their maiden ATP Tour doubles, the $727,685 Claro Open in Bogota, Colombia, and made their maiden appearance in a Grand Slam in Wimbledon.

Bhupathi made news for his ambitious International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) which will have some of world’s top stars competing.

Barring the controversies, the Indian tennis has given a lot to look forward to the next year.

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