About 40 years ago the question was after Ramanathan Krishnan who? At the start of the 90s it was after the Amritrajs what? And for some time now the question has been what happens after Hesh and Lee? The answer to all these queries is that the succession will take place smoothly as has been the case ever since Krishnan hung up his racket.
Indian tennis has almost always occupied a seat in the forefront when it comes to the international game thanks to the Krishnans and the Amritrajs, the Leanders and the Bhupathis and even though admittedly it may no longer be a force to reckon with in the Davis Cup or in singles events Indian players have seen to it that they can hold their own at least in the doubles event around the ATP circuit and even in Grand Slam events.
But there has to come a time to build for the future what with Bhupathi clearly past his best, Leander in his 40th year and Rohan Bopanna not entirely living up to his early promise. So what better time than now particularly in the wake of the unseemly controversies that broke out over the team selection for the Olympic Games in London.
This was the opportune moment to initiate the transition phase when the torch is passed on to the next generation and the AITA has done the right thing in going in for a totally new look Indian team to play New Zealand at Chandigarh over this weekend the players largely comprising untapped potential but having the best credentials among the younger group.
So for the first time in eons there is an Indian team without Leander, Bhupathi, Bopanna and even Somdev Devvarman who has still not recovered from injury. With Bhupathi and Bopanna not considered after emerging the chief villains in the selection controversy and Leander unavailable due to prior commitments it will be Yuki Bhambri (current singles ranking 179) leading the Indian challenge against the Kiwis.
During the rebuilding process some defeats are inevitable as the young and inexperienced players come to terms with a higher level of tennis than they are used to. But this should not act as a deterrent for with experience the same set of players can turn out to be much better even if they do not emerge as world beaters.
Fortunately the tie is at home and against New Zealand who are no great shakes in international tennis. In fact Davis Cup captain SP Misra has asserted that India is the better team despite having a whole set of new players. "This will be the right time for the players to make a mark as New Zealand is not one of the world’s top teams," a confident Misra has said. He pointed out that the Indians are ranked higher than the New Zealand players and also made a note of the encouraging performances by members of the Indian squad in recent weeks.
Most of the focus will be on Yuki who is suddenly the country’s No 1 singles player. The 20-year-old lad from Delhi is confident of facing up to the Kiwi challenge particularly in the wake of his good showing in the Shanghai Challenger just a couple of days ago when he along with Divij Sharan made the doubles final before going down 6-4, 6-4 to the Ratiwatana twins Sanchai and Sonchat from Thailand. He feels he has been stroking the ball well of late and if the Indians play up to potential he is confident of victory though he cautiously adds "but it will not be easy."
Yuki is a former world No 1 junior and was the first Indian to win the Australian Open Junior title in 2008. Interestingly enough Yuki who has won a Challenger singles title this season was beaten in the quarter finals of the Shanghai Challenger by Sanam Singh (current singles ranking 367) who is also a member of the Indian squad to play New Zealand. Yuki also had a stint at the US Open qualifying event where he won one match before losing in the next round.
The left-handed Divij who is one of the most promising juniors in the country had won the doubles title with Vishnu Vardhan in the Bangkok Challenger a week ago. In fact Divij has had a dream run making it to four finals and two semifinals apart from the title triumph in Bangkok in the last seven tournaments spread over eight weeks.
With this run Divij has broken into the top 100 and is ranked 94 in the doubles according to the latest rankings. Vishnu Vardhan who completes the quartet for the Chandigarh tie has a singles ranking of 262. The other players are Sriram Balaji (current singles ranking 337) and Saketh Myneni (383).
The heady days when India entered the Davis Cup finals in 1966, 1974 and 1987 and quite unexpectedly made the semifinals in 1993 after a great upset victory over France at Frejus may be long over and India have been languishing in the Asia Oceania zone for a couple of years now. But this relegation play-off tie against New Zealand could well mark the beginning of an upward swing in the fortunes of Indian tennis. It’s going to be a long, hard upward climb but at least a start would have been made.