Pune: All eyes will be on veteran Leander Paes, who is on the cusp of a historic world record in perhaps his last Davis Cup appearance, as India take on relatively weaker New Zealand in the Asia/Oceania Group I tie, here from Friday.
The 18-time Grand Slam champion, who will take part in his 55th Davis Cup tie, is tied with Italy’s Nicola Pietrangeli on 42 doubles wins in doubles. A win Saturday will make him the most successful doubles player ever in Davis Cup history. Paes, however, will have to team up with last-minute inclusion and his London Olympics doubles partner Vishnu Vardhan, after first choice Saketh Myneni failed to recover from a foot injury sustained during last month’s Chennai Open.
“Myneni’s injury is not okay yet,” said Anand Amritraj — leading the side for one last time — after the draw for the tie, which will be first in Pune after 43 years. Paes and national hard court champion Vardhan run into Artem Sitak and Michael Venus on Day Two of the tie. Vardhan was given a call-up after three people spoke to India’s top doubles player Rohan Bopanna, team captain Amritraj said.
Yuki Bhambri, ranked 368, will open India’s campaign against New Zealand’s number one player Finn Tearney, ranked 414, while Ramkumar Ramanathan (206) takes on Jose Statham (417) in the second singles. On paper, due to higher rankings and the advantage of playing at home, India appear to hold a clear edge over the Kiwis against whom they have a 5-3 win-loss record, with all the defeats occurring in the 1970s.
India have not lost to New Zealand since 1978 when the Kiwis, then spearheaded by Onny Parun, had beaten them 4-1 in New Delhi in the Eastern Zone semi-final.