The continuous underwhelming performance of the Indian Davis Cup team has turned the spotlight on captain Rohit Rajpal and the national federation, the All India Tennis Association (AITA).
India were relegated to World Group 2 after losing the WG 1 playoff away to Denmark in February, and are scheduled to host Morocco in September.
While Rajpal’s decision to play Yuki Bhambri in the opening singles has been called into question, the atmosphere around the team is also said to be “not conducive for performance”.
“Once the team is selected, it is definitely the captain’s prerogative to pick the best combination to win the tie. But, playing Yuki who has stopped playing singles, was that the correct choice,” a former India player wondered.
“Also, Rohit, once he sets his mind on something, or his likes and dislikes for a player, seems to be rigid about it. He needs to be more flexible.”
A source said: “Rohit didn’t want to play Prajnesh in the opening match because he said he didn’t have enough faith in him, but at the same time he wanted him (Prajnesh) to play the fifth match if the score was 2-2.”
Rajpal said the decision to play Yuki instead of Prajnesh Gunneswaran or Ramkumar Ramanathan was prompted by the need to draw the lower ranked Sumit Nagal against Denmark’s No. 2 player, instead of Holger Rune, on the opening day.
“We wanted to be 1-1 at the end of the first day. In practice sessions it was Sumit who was in the best form. The only way we could have made Sumit play their No. 2 was by fielding Yuki,” he said.
To Rajpal's credit, India were 1-1 after the opening singles but eventually lost the tie 2-3.
Different officials in Indian tennis and sources in the team mentioned a lack of professionalism from the team management –– including punctuality issues –– and the entourage of AITA officials for the away ties.
The last three have been held in Scandinavian countries.
An upset Rajpal said: “Those who are saying that are enemies of the Indian side. The kind of professionalism I have brought in has not been done by any other captain before. Players used to arrive four days before the tie, now they arrive eight-ten days in advance. There are many others things, which I don’t wish to talk about.”
Anil Dhupar, AITA’s honorary secretary general, doubled up as the team manager in Denmark. For the previous away tie in Norway, a member of the management committee was assigned.
Dhupar said it has been a “tradition” for officials to accompany the team and Rajpal said he would like it “to continue”.
“This will help the officials see for themselves what’s happening on the ground and what hardships the players go through,” the captain said.
"The kind of basic things they do –– like collecting the food bills and accounting the expenditure everyday, calling for the cab –– these are not stuff a professional would be interested in dong. As a team we have to focus on playing.
"I think they are doing an unbelievable service to the team. It is well managed and should continue."
Not everyone shared his opinion.
“If we need to bring about change, then we all have to come together, talk and prepare a roadmap. If we are not going to do it, there is not going to be any change,” one of the players said.
“The players must choose their captain, the coach, the manager and the physio. That is a basic requirement to start with.”
Rajpal’s donning multiple hats — he is also the AITA treasurer and the president of the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association — has also been questioned.
“He has to choose between one of the two,” said a seasoned tennis administrator.
“A captain’s role is not just for one or two weeks of the tie. It is a round-the-year job. It would have been nice to see the captain come and watch the three Challengers (held in Chennai, Bengaluru and Pune).
“He (captain) doesn’t have to do anything. He just needs to be there, it would be a big boost for the players.”