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Somdev Devvarman opens up about Sania-Ankita's Tokyo chances and AITA controversy

Analysing the chances of Sania Mirza-Ankita Raina and Sumit Nagal at the Tokyo Olympics, former tennis ace Somdev Devvarman also opens up about the AITA controversy.

Somdev Devvarman

Former tennis ace Somdev Devvarman (Source:PTI)


Sohinee Basu

Updated: 24 July 2021 3:35 AM GMT

As we near the end of the heated countdown and all controversies have sizzled to a stop in the Indian tennis camp, reaching a cool down moment, the focus has finally returned to the Tokyo Olympics. Headlining the action and representing the tricolour will be the pair of Sania Mirza and Ankita Raina in the Women's Doubles while the 23-year-old Sumit Nagal will play in the Men's Singles at the Tokyo Games.

Knowing the workings of Indian tennis almost like the back of his palm, former World No. 62 player Somdev Devvarman spoke about the chances of the players at the Tokyo Olympics and discussed, at length the controversy centering around Rohan Bopanna and the AITA, among other things in a press conference arranged by Sony.

The 36-year-old Somdev Devvarman, who hung up the racquet in 2017 but is still closely associated with the game he loves more than most, will be present as an Expert Panelist on the wraparound show - Sports Extraaa on Sony to provide his insights on the proceedings of the Tokyo Olympics.

Sania and Ankita have a chance to do something special: Somdev Devvarman

Sania Mirza and Ankita Raina (Source:IANS)

As far as Indian tennis is concerned at the Olympics, all eyes will be on a resurgent Sania Mirza as she heads into her 4th Olympics, hungry for a medal. Partnering with the 28-year-old Ahmedabad girl Ankita Raina, Sania Mirza will be hoping for a good run at the Games in Japan.

Analysing their chances with honest scrutiny, Somdev mentions, "If they have a good draw then Sania Mirza - she has the experience and the firepower and she will have to lead the team. Ankita has also been playing really well. The question is whether they will have a good draw and if they can take advantage of it. They will have to play really, really well and things will have to go their way. I think they have a chance to do something special," he firmly puts.

The duo of Sania Mirza and Ankita Raina are scheduled to open their campaign against the Kichenok twins - Lyudmyla and Nadiia and it is predicted that they should have it fairly easy in that round. Further, Sania, is used to the Ariake Tennis Park as she has won there previously - therefore she should warm up to it easy and adjust herself to her preferred fast-paced conditions of the court and temper her game likewise, Somdev felt.

Meanwhile, Sumit Nagal, who got a surprise entry on 16th July after a mass-scale withdrawal took place has to tame Denis Istomin in the first round before the dangerous World No. 2, Daniil Medvedev awaits him in the second.

Will the recent controversy affect the players mentally?

All hell broke loose with veteran Indian tennis player Rohan Bopanna going all out against the AITA, led by Anil Dhupar and alleging them of misleading him about his qualification chances for the Tokyo Olympics. Controversy and Indian tennis at Olympics share a special bond and this time, it was like no other.

"There is a common denominator in all 3 of the Olympics where the controversies happened," Devvarman says. " It's unfortunate the way it happened. It's not something that players enjoy nor do they deserve it. In terms of the mind frame of the players, I would focus a little on Sania, Ankita and Sumit - I think nothing changes for them," Somdev reflects.

"Sania and Ankita were 'in' from the get-go, so that doesn't change their mindset. Sumit just got in last week, so for him this is just a fine opportunity, he isn't involved in any controversy, I think. These won't affect their motivation and they will be excited to represent their country and give their best. This could have been easily avoided - just like the previous Olympic fiascoes could have been avoided as well," the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist asserted.

Neutralising the narrative: AITA vs Rohan Bopanna

Rohan Bopanna (Source:AFP)

Somdev, who has been following the Indian scene for a long time and regrets not seeing a wave of budding tennis players in the country like badminton has ushered in after Saina Nehwal, attempted to settle the controversy that raged between the AITA and Rohan Bopanna.

Asked if it is a senior-players-only problem that crops up every Olympics with the AITA, Somdev dispells saying, "Senior players have dealt with this for a longer period of time and are a little bit more comfortable speaking their mind." And speak his mind is what Rohan Bopanna did when he took to Twitter to lash out against the Federation.

However, Somdev was as objective as ever as he went on to spill, "The truth of the matter is that regardless of what happened with this miscommunication or not, we were not really going to field the doubles team in the men's, because we were not ranked high enough."

Aiming to blot out the crux of the problem, the Guwahati-born tennis ace mentioned, "What happened was that people were not aware of the rules, the players did not know it fully too. You see, the Olympic rules are very different from the rules on the tour and also in terms of the Federation, even they weren't properly aware of the rules, which is technically their job to know."

"Rohan was disappointed because he felt that he was misled. The conversation could have been - Hey, you're not in, that's very unfortunate, we did our best and it didn't work out. But instead of that happening it went like - Hey, you're not getting in with him (Divij), but you have a chance with him (Nagal), and if you have a chance with him then you have a chance in Mixed….that kind of conversation didn't need to happen at all," Devvarman strongly felt.

The bitter turn that the controversy took did not agree well with most players as Sania Mirza, Mahesh Bhupathi and even, Somdev himself, joined the chorus of Bopanna in various pitches to call out the AITA.

Breaking it down neatly, Somdev carried on, "What's worse and doesn't sit well with players, as well as me, was the fact that you know, the tone from Mr. Anil Dhupar (Secretary General of the AITA) was very uncalled for keeping in mind that a) Rohan is a senior player b) He wasn't wrong and c) these are the same people who forgot that 4-5 years ago at Rio, that Rohan was the guy who got Leander into the tournament because he was the higher-ranked guy and he could choose a partner. But yeah, those comments like 'You should be ranked high enough', etcetera was in bad taste from Mr.Dhupar," he etched out.

However, this controversy has currently lost steam and the focus has shifted back to the Ariake Tennis Park where the tennis action of the Tokyo Olympics will unfurl from July 24 as the Indian players vie to make the most of their chances over there.

Rightfully the attention needs to be diverted and set on the SONY SIX, SONY TEN 2 channels which will broadcast the Tokyo Olympics live starting from 23rd July.

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