In Focus | Dubai Tennis Championships

Somdev Devvarman on Davis Cup strike: ‘We only want what’s best for Indian tennis’

Indian tennis star defends rebel players who boycotted match with South Korea

  • By Alaric Gomes, Senior Reporter
  • Published: 14:11 February 28, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News
  • Somdev Devvarman of India in action against Juan Martin Del Porto of Argentina at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Wednesday.

Dubai: Somdev Devvarman has defended his involvement in last month’s Davis Cup strike by a group of leading Indian tennis stars by insisting he only wanted what’s best for the players and the future of the game.

The 28-year-old led the contingent of at least 11 so-called “rebels” in boycotting India’s match against South Korea after submitting a list of demands they insisted the All India Tennis Association (AITA) meet before they represented their country again.

The AITA initially refused to give in to the requests — which included changes to the distribution of prize money — and was forced to pick a shadow team to play against the South Koreans, with 13-time Grand Slam doubles champion Leander Paes the only frontline player to appear in the 4-1 regional first round defeat.

But the governing body did eventually cede to most of the demands and the players, who went on to form the Indian Tennis Players’ Association (ITPA) to represent their views, have agreed to make themselves available.

“I think all of us collectively have always voiced a very similar opinion, if not the exact same. One thing for sure is that all of us want the exact same thing as an outcome — how do we make the tennis scene in India better for upcoming players, former players, current players, everything? How do you make it fairer and better?” Devvarman said during the Dubai Duty Free Men’s Open this week.

“That’s the whole goal of the association [ITPA]. People might be getting the wrong idea, but obviously since there have been problems. I think our first goal and only goal is to make sure we do a good job. And whether there is somebody else doing a better job doesn’t bother us. Honestly, it’s a good thing if there is kind of a rivalry. But there isn’t. At least from our side I know there isn’t. We just want the best for the players and the best for the future of the game.

“I think all of us are tennis enthusiasts and we just want the best for it.”

Devvarman, who beat Russian Igor Kunitsyn in the first round here before crashing out to Argentine Juan Martin del Potro on Wednesday, went on to describe how frustrated he has been by some of the politics and rhetoric surrounding the recent furore.

“It’s an ongoing problem. It’s like politics and no one’s ever happy. Unfortunately, we’re all human and I think the place that I stand right now in my life is that people call you rebels and all sorts of nonsense,” he said.

“For me, I don’t understand why anyone would take offence to being called a rebel. If you don’t agree to something, you stand up, right? That’s kind of how all of us are taught. It’s a very simple stance for me. You don’t like something, you don’t lay down and take it. Tell me what kind of person that is, and that’s the kind of person I don’t want to be.”

And Devvarman warned the AITA that the players’ association isn’t finished in its bid to make the game in India stronger — despite the concessions made in bringing them back into the Davis Cup fray.

“Our next step is always going to be the next step, regardless of what happens and our next step is how do we make it better?” he said.

“I want to find ways to make the whole system better. You sit back and look at things that happen, and if it’s good, you try and make it better. If it’s not good, you see what’s not good. It’s as simple as that.

“It’s an ongoing process. It’s never going to be perfect for everyone. I think we’re all smart enough to know that, when there is a thousand people involved, not everyone is going to be happy, but we’re going to do our best.”

The 1.8m right-handed player, who won singles gold at the 2010 Asian Games in China, went on to add that he has no regrets over his handling of the situation and that it has not affected his performances.

“I doesn’t bother me when I’m on the court — it almost gives me a better mindset. I have absolutely no regrets for what I’m saying, for what I’m doing. I’m very clear with what I want to do and I think that’s almost an easier way to do it. This is the first time in my career where all the guys in the country I feel are really starting to get along and there is so much support,” he said.

“I know for a fact that the players are all behind me and everybody wants the same things. So for me, it’s like the easiest thing to do because in my mind I’m doing the right thing. I sleep great at night. I’m very honest with whatever questions I get. I have absolutely no problem being honest.

“Some people like it, some people don’t. But that’s their problem, the way they take my comments. I don’t mean disrespect to anyone. I just want to be honest. I think the best I can offer is my sincerity, my honesty, and hard work.”

Fact Box

The players’ original demands:

1. The team must comprise six players to ensure adequate practice partners, while also allowing for exposure to Davis Cup playing conditions for a larger pool of Indian talent.

2. The decision-making process for choosing the surface and venue for home ties should involve the participation of all active players.

3. Professional team management to include a common team physiotherapist and coach, a move that we believe will foster team unity.

4. A revised agreement for the distribution of Davis Cup prize money. The current ratio of distribution has been implemented based on a 20-year-old agreement that strongly favours the AITA. We propose that, henceforth, prize money be distributed to the players after the AITA recovers all costs incurred through a Davis Cup tie.

5. All team members should be treated at par with regard to logistical arrangements.


How the Indian revolt unfolded:

— In January, 11 Indian players revolted, putting forward a charter of demands to the AITA before forming the ITPA.

— The AITA yielded to most of the demands, but the players refused to compete in the South Korea tie as they did not get some assurances in writing. The AITA subsequently gave the written assurances, ending the rebellion.

— The AITA agreed to increase the players’ share in Davis Cup prize money, change the support staff and consult them for choices of venue and surface.

— The parent body also agreed to give the players business class airfare, a six-member squad for all ties, and to consult them on the appointment of a team physiotherapist.

— The players also demanded their representation in AITA Executive and Selection committees, but the federation rejected that request.

— India’s next match in the Davis Cup Asia Oceania Group I First Round play-off will be against Indonesia in Bengaluru from April 5-7.

— A.G.

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