Will Harshana Godamanna quit the Davis Cup?


By Revata S. Silva

Before the Davis Cup tennis Asia-Oceania Zone Group-II tie played against Indonesia over the last weekend, Sri Lanka’s veteran campaigner Harshana Godamanna was contemplating on retiring, it was reported. That was not basically from playing for the country, but from the Singles game only, some said. Godamanna, by far, the best player the country has produced in modern era tennis in Sri Lanka, told ‘The Island’ on Monday (April 9) that he is, though, yet to make such a decision.

"I’m yet to decide (on quitting the Davis Cup or the Singles game). If I’m to make such a decision, that’ll be for allowing our younger players to step in and get more experience," he clarified.

Godamanna first played in the Davis Cup in 2002 as a 16-year-old, in Bangladesh, playing in a Group-IV Doubles match against Jordan, partnering Rajeev Rajapakse. He has since played for Sri Lanka every single year until this time, but for 2004, and is only one year behind holding the all-time record for representing Sri Lanka for most number of years, a record (17 years) presently held by the late Bernard Pinto, who played in the Davis Cup from 1956-1973.

"Thinking about the future, that (quitting Singles) could be the best thing to do but I’ve not decided as yet. I’ll most probably continue to play, and continue to play only in the Doubles," added Godamanna. Sri Lanka will next play in the Davis Cup only in 2019 in Asia-Oceania Zone Group-III, due to their relegation from Group-II following their 3-1 loss against Indonesia on Sunday, April 8.

Most notably Godamanna, nicknamed ‘Godda’, carried Sri Lanka’s prospects in this World Cup of men’s international tennis mainly since 2006 appearing in both Singles and Doubles. He played the key role in Sri Lanka’s landmark Group-II promotion made in Aleppo, Syria in 2009, which came after a staggering lagging in the lowly Group-IV and III for ten long years.

He then became the main architect of winning the country Group-II promotion twice, in 2011 and 2017, while helping the country retain the prestigious Group-II position for five consecutive years, from 2012-2016. Sri Lanka has never played beyond Group-II in the Davis Cup.

"It could have gone either way. I didn’t have the belief at the end to pull it through. I didn’t have enough recent match experience either. It could’ve been what made the difference," he said on his defeat at the hands of Indonesia’s main player Christopher Rungkat, current world no. 824, in a crucial Singles on Sunday which went down to the wire, ending up in a third set tie-breaker at 9-7. A win for Godamanna, who presently does professional coaching in USA, in that match, would have paved the way for Sri Lanka to avoid the eventual Group-III relegation. And, there were many who thought that day that the Rungkat defeat was the last time Sri Lanka saw this southpaw in action in a Davis Cup Singles match.

The day he is leaving will certainly be an end of an era for Sri Lanka in the Davis Cup. Godamanna, former Royal College, Colombo, student was involved in an Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) career, a rarity for a Lankan, nearly a decade ago which earned him the best world rank for a Sri Lankan (811 in Oct., 2008) since Arjun Fernando (293 in Dec., 1979).

This year he played in his 51st Davis Cup tie (a series against another country) and for that, he won the prestigious Davis Cup Commitment Award last Saturday from the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the world governing body of tennis and the Davis Cup, becoming only the third Lankan to receive the Award after Bernard Pinto (posthumously) and Arjun Fernando. Sri Lanka first played in the Davis Cup in 1953, 53 years after the tournament was founded in USA.

Without ‘Godda’, now 32, in the fray, Sri Lanka will need another gritty veteran to match him in their bid to enter, and then stay, in the fiercely competitive zonal Group-II in the Davis Cup. Only Sharmal Dissanayake and Yasitha de Silva are considered the next most experienced players Sri Lanka has at the moment.

A country needs to enter the zonal Group-I and then the World Group of 16 countries if it is to win this annual competition. There are three zones, Americas, Europe-Africa and Asia-Oceania, in the current Davis Cup structure which features nearly 130 nations making it the biggest annual team-sport competition in the world. France is the reigning champion. A country’s standing in the Davis Cup is considered the main criterion of her tennis standards.

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