New Delhi: Some fine individual achievements were pushed out of public memory as a shattered Olympic dream, wrecked primarily by avoidable ego clashes, hogged the spotlight in a turbulent year for Indian tennis.
Ageing star Leander Paes began 2012 with a bang as he completed his career Slam by grabbing the Australian Open with new partner Radek Stepanek in January. Sania Mirza won her second Grand Slam when she triumphed at the mixed doubles event of the French Open with Mahesh Bhupathi and remained a force on the WTA tour at least in doubles.
Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna won a few titles together and also qualified for the year-end high profile ATP World Tour Final in London. These were no mean achievements and deserved accolades but in the end, the fans would remember 2012 for the bitter bickering between these very players ahead of the London Olympics.
It cannot be claimed that India would have certainly won the Olympic medal had Bhupathi and Paes played together instead of playing with different partners and had Bhupathi and Sania competed in the mixed doubles. But the way teams were picked, the players fought over the combination and the way the All India Tennis Association handled or rather allowed the situation to go out of hand, was upsetting and disturbing.
Team events in sports is all about players' chemistry and it defied logic when AITA broke the Grand Slam winning mixed combination of Bhupathi and Sania. It all started when Bhupathi and Bopanna rebutted the original selection and refused to team up with Paes. AITA had to budge under pressure at that time but took revenge by throwing out both of them from the Davis Cup team.
Bhupathi, who earned the distinction of becoming the first player of the country to win a Grand Slam, is now fighting a court battle to get his suspension revoked. Bhupathi has already declared that year 2013 would be his last as a professional player and suspension from national representation is not what a legend deserves in the twilight of his career.
Bopanna, who is fast becoming a pillar for India in Davis Cup, has no clue if he will be able to represent his country. In fact, this mess, the biggest loser is Bopanna since both Paes and Bhupathi are past their prime and have achieved phenomenal success in their respective careers.
Once these players exit from the scene, the youngsters will have to shoulder the responsibility of taking Indian tennis forward. The men's tennis scene still looks okay with Somdev Devvarman, Vishnu Vardhan, Yuki Bhambri, Sanam Singh and Divij Sharan but dismayingly there is no one to get into the shoes of Sania in the women's circuit.
These youngsters, however, have performed well only at the Challenger level and are yet to make a mark at one notch up, the Tour competition. Left-handed Divij was exceptional, reaching eight finals and winning two titles - one each with Yuki and Vishnu. He also broke into the top-100 on the back of his stellar run on Challenger tour and later did well in the Davis Cup tie against New Zealand.
Vishnu though rose in stature after his tremendous show at the Olympics, where he played unexpectedly well with Paes. He did not drop his serve even once during their campaign. Both Somdev and Yuki had raised big hopes when they broke into the scene but for several reasons, including injuries, they have not quite fulfilled the expectations.
Somdev missed out on almost the entire season due to his shoulder surgery and struggled badly on his comeback. During the Davis Cup tie against the Kiwis, India achieved a rare whitewash but the Indian youngsters were far from dominating in the 5-0 win.
The big players were missed badly as Paes, Somdev opted out whereas Bhupathi and Bopanna were axed following disciplinary action for the rebel act. Year 2013 would be crucial for Indian tennis since in all probability it will be the last for Paes as well.