Yuki Bhambri helped India to a superb 4-1 Davis Cup win over New Zealand last weekend – before walking into an argument with national tennis officials over a perceived lack of “desire” to develop the sport.
Bhambri won both of his singles matches in the Asia Oceania Group I tie in Pune, but instead of celebrating the victory he became the latest player to hit out at the All India Tennis Association’s (AITA) ambitions.
Last month, the recently-retired Somdev Devvarman, Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza all criticised the powers that be for issues regarding grass roots progression, team selection and disciplinary concerns.
After outgoing Davis Cup captain Anand Amirtraj told the AITA to “pump in more money, more time and more resources”, Bhambri, 24, jumped in: “If they have the desire. I don’t know if they have got the desire.”
“Everybody trains by themselves. They are not a product of the system, because there is no system,” he went on. “Why should questions about developing a strong team for the Davis Cup or creating a strong player base be asked by the players?
“These should be addressed to the AITA. What are they doing for the players? ITF Futures (tournaments) don’t give you enough. Challengers is the way to go. This is the right time to start working on that because we have got the players who are ready to take advantage of these events.
“In 2013, when we had the Challengers, Saketh Myneni, Prajnesh (Gunneswaren) and I benefited from them. But where are those events now? We hardly get to play one or two of those in an entire year.
“The question is, what the AITA are willing to do for the next generation to put Indian tennis on the world map?”
Bhambri’s comments may not have been to the AITA’s liking, but on court he did his bit for the country. First he beat Finn Tearney 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 in the opening singles before Ramkumar Ramanathan doubled the host’s lead with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 triumph over Jose Stathamin.
The second day of the tie saw Leander Paes’ hopes of a record 43rd Davis Cup victory dashed when he and Vishnu Vardhan lost to Artem Sitak and Michael Venus 6-3, 3-6, 6-7, 3-6 in the doubles.
That left either Ramanathan or Bhambri needing to secure a match-winning point last Sunday (5) to seal the win, and both obliged – Rammanathan crushed Tearney 7-5, 6-1, 6-0 while Bhambri eased past Statham 7-5, 3-6, 6-4.
“It was very satisfying. I could not have imagined anything better,” Amritraj said after winning his fifth and last tie as captain. “It worked out as I expected with the focus on singles as I knew the doubles was extremely tough.
“I was hoping for three singles wins and we got four, so I could not have asked for anything better.”
Praising the performances of 22-year-old youngster Ramkumar and Bhambri, he added: “It was one of the best matches I saw Yuki play, even though it was a dead rubber.
“I think it was played more for pride and the country.
“Ramkumar was great too. I am so happy I picked him to play singles. I now hope he gives better and better performances for India.”
A delighted Ramkumar, who was carried around the Shiv Chatrapati Sports Complex on his teammate’s shoulders after his match-clinching win, said: “I kept fighting for every point. The boys told me to keep going.
“It was a great tie for us and the country. Once I got the rhythm I started playing better. The crowd also helped me to play my best.”
India now play their second round Davis Cup tie at home against Uzbekistan in April, who beat South Korea in their first round away match.