CHENNAI: 1966 final, lost 1-4 to Australia. 1974 final, forfeited to South Africa. 1987 final, lost 0-5 to Sweden. Unfavourable scorelines aside, that’s how close India was to winning the Davis Cup crown back in the day. Few know this better than current India skipper Anand Amritraj, who was part of the latter two missions.
The mere mention of the 1974 campaign makes Anand reminisce about “India’s best chance for Cup glory that wasn’t to be”, where he played singles as well as doubles with brother Vijay. In protest of the South African government’s apartheid policies, India refused to play. “Vijay and I were a two-member team and it was our best chance to win the Cup. The South Africans were willing to play anywhere and it was a huge mistake not to have played. The way I saw it, it would have been a 4-1 victory for us,” he opines.
Younger sibling Vijay feels the same pinch when recollecting, but considers the decision great from a humanistic view. “No doubt I agree with Anand about the scoreline being in our favour. However, the decision to not play was great because we refused to turn a blind eye to the injustice. When the apartheid finally ended, the first country Nelson Mandela visited was India. That itself speaks volumes,” Vijay observes.
Both concur the other one against Sweden was too tough to even think about – the fact that Stefan Edberg sat on the bench throughout shows what a team they had. In his hometown for the Chennai Open, Anand always keeps an eye on his boys from the sidelines. That’s the benefit of a close-knit group – everyone is looking out for one another. At the helm since September 2013, he feels it’s one of the essential cogs in the development and success of a team. While India has a bye in the Group I first round, New Zealand or South Korea will be their second round foes. “I am hoping that in 2017 we can reach the World Group. We were close recently but we blew the doubles against the Czechs,” Anand says.
Vijay thinks more singles players should come through the woodwork or the current ones need to buck up. “Our players should compete on the World Tour. Challengers and Futures are good to get a player to around 250 or 200. If a player can win two rounds in a 250 tournament, it is akin to winning a Challenger (in terms of points). For example, Yuki (Bhambri) can improve his ranking by a good 30 places that way,” Vijay adds.
When quizzed about the next generation, both came up empty, choosing to focus on current representatives. “Saketh (Myneni), Ramkumar (Ramanathan) and Sanam (Singh) are in good shape. However, none of our players can play both singles and doubles in a tie. In our day we used to play both and didn’t have the benefit of tie-breaks! Our players seem to get injured and cramp more easily too,” the duo signs off.