In the past week, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) and International Tennis Federation (ITF) have been exchanging letters regarding India’s upcoming Davis Cup tie in Pakistan, without coming to any agreement. AITA is pushing for the tie to be held at a neutral venue, while ITF asserts Pakistan’s security arrangements are good enough. At a time when political tension between the two countries is on the rise, former Davis Cup non-playing captain Anand Amritraj talks to The Indian Express on the possibilities.
What do you make of India’s chances in this tie?
Pakistan was an easier choice, tennis-wise. They’ve got nobody else, just Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, who is playing doubles on the tour. I figured they’re going to be playing on grass because that’s Pakistan’s best chance. They beat South Korea over there, I don’t know how they pulled that off, but they managed it. But this is definitely a winnable match for us, surely we can’t lose to them. Both (Qureshi and Aqeel Khan) are well past their prime, and we’ve got Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Ramkumar Ramanathan. The match shouldn’t be any problem for India, we should be able to roll them over. But now it’s more about the outside factors than the tennis itself.
What do you make of the ITF’s understanding of the situation?
(Justine Albert, ITF Executive Director) is the one who’s going to be in control of whether this match is going to be played. The lady who probably knows nothing, has never been to Pakistan or India, it’s absolutely amazing. Really.
I think they (ITF) should take a trip there and then decide if it’s safe enough.
Do you feel the ITF might allow the tie at a neutral venue eventually?
I don’t think the ITF is going to budge, and the Pakistanis would obviously want to play at home. Also the tie is coming up in less than a month. It’s going to be hard to find a neutral venue.
The problem with getting a neutral venue is that it’s getting very close to the match. Normally, teams will go there a week in advance to get in some practice. Time’s running out. It’s not going to be easy for the ITF or anybody to find another venue. In my opinion, you can write all the letters you want, but this match is going to be played in Islamabad. Unless the situation gets even worse, which hopefully it will not.
My personal view is that wherever they play, the tennis itself is going to be one-sided, at the most it’ll be 4-1, not much closer. The players will just have to get past the security stuff, put their minds at ease and focus on the tennis. I hope we eventually play this tie because we don’t want to be suspended or fall out of the Group. We don’t want that. But I’m positive Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) will make all the positive arrangements. I don’t think they will want any incident to happen, so I’m sure they will give it their best shot.
What would be the most troublesome thing for the players at the moment?
If it was me, and I’m sure the boys feel the same way, there’s a lot of uncertainty, which is the last thing you need. One day, the tie is going to be in Pakistan, next day they’re thinking about a neutral venue. That must be really irritating and annoying for the players. A month before the match, nothing is settled. I think uncertainty about where they’re going to play is going to be very unsettling. That’s probably the hardest part.
AITA has also proposed the tie be postponed for two months. What do you think of that?
I don’t think that’s a bad idea, but I honestly don’t think that’s going to happen in this case.
You were a part of the Indian team that played a Davis Cup tie against Pakistan back in 1973, at a neutral venue. What was that tie like?
That was the first time Vijay (Amritraj) and I played doubles together in Davis Cup. The Pakistan team then was pretty good since all three guys used to play on the circuit. This took place in Kuala Lumpur.
When you play at a neutral venue, of course, the crowds are not going to be very great. But you have to get the matches done. I’m not sure how they decided the venue. I guess (ITF) felt it was not safe enough for the Indian team to travel to Pakistan. It was pretty similar to what it is now, which is that it becomes an ITF call to see if it’s safe enough to go. They figured it was safe for the Pakistanis to come to Mumbai in 2006, but the situation was different then compared to now, just like it was for us in 1973 because it was just after the 1971 war. So to be on the safe side, we played in Kuala Lumpur.
If anything went on between the AITA and ITF, we didn’t know. Vijay was 19 and I was 21, we were both new on the circuit. But I think it was the ITF and AITA that went for a neutral venue. We were quite happy playing in Kuala Lumpur anyway. Vijay and I were both familiar with the grass courts there. Two weeks prior to the tie, I had won the Malaysian Open singles title at the same club. We were pretty familiar with the courts and security was not a problem. The crowd that did come was all Indian or Pakistani. It was a nice atmosphere.
What has your equation been like with the Pakistani players?
We’ve always gotten along well with the Pakistani boys. Qureshi has grown up and gotten along well with Prakash (Vijay’s son) and my son Stephen.
Whenever he sees me on the circuit he comes up to me, gives me a big hug, and calls me ‘uncle.’ I’ve known him extremely well for the last 20 years.
He used to hang around the house for dinner. He’s been a good friend for the boys. And even the older guys, Haroon Rahim, Munawar Iqbal, the guys from our generation, we’ve always gotten well together. You can understand that because we’ve got much more in common than we are different. The food, the likes, dislikes, the looks. Basically we’re one people, it’s just unfortunate that this whole thing is such a mess.