Unique situation, but exciting, says Mahesh Bhupathi

The Asian Age.  | Sandeep Menon

Sports, Tennis

Bhupathi embraces new role as non-playing captain.

Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna at a training session in Bengaluru on Wednesday, ahead of their Davis Cup Group I tie against Uzbekistan beginning Friday. (Photo: Shashidhar B)

Bengaluru: Mahesh Bhupathi has been around tennis his entire life and two decades as a pro. Now, having stepped into the role of Davis Cup captain, the 42-year-old is enjoying his stint at the helm.

“Davis Cup captaincy for any athlete is an honour. These guys are my colleagues. I have played with all of them. I have played against all of them including the opposition. It’s a bit of a unique situation. So for me to be able to captain them, it’s exciting and I think they are enjoying it as well,” said Bhupathi on Wednesday.

With the tie against Uzbekistan starting on Friday marking his debut as captain, it’s uncharted territory for the former doubles specialist. Having always found himself inside the white lines, Bhupathi is adapting, and quickly, to the new life on the sidelines.

“When you are playing, you are worried about doing everything for yourself so you are ready when Friday comes. When you are captaining, you got to make sure everybody else is ready.

“From diet to food to recovery to ice-baths. One guy wakes up with a cold, another with a bad hamstring. There is a lot going on,” revealed the captain.

With Uzbekistan confirming their top star Denis Istomin will not be making the trip, the odds seems to have levelled for the hosts. Both teams are now without their highest ranked player as Yuki Bhambri had already pulled out with a knee injury earlier this week.

Despite the developments, Bhupathi stressed that there is no change in their plans whatsoever. With good reason too.

“Two days ago we knew that it was highly likely that he (Istomin) wasn’t going to show. For us, losing Yuki was a blow but now that Istomin is not there, that evens up the game,” he opened up.

“(There are) no changes in plans. I don’t have so many options in singles. Istomin here or not, my singles players are all set.”

Big moment for youngsters
Among them will be debutants Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Sriram Balaji. While it is more likely the latter will be used in the doubles, it will nonetheless be a big moment for both.

“Every kid dreams of playing Davis Cup so this is something that their 20 years of flesh and blood has come to. So obviously they will be nervous. Once the blood starts flowing and the crowd starts screaming, they will be in their element,” stressed the multiple Grand Slam doubles champion.

“They put up a good show and then they will (also) be in contention the next time when Saketh (Myneni) and Yuki are healthy. So from Indian tennis’ perspective, it’s a good place to be in. But the priority now is to win.”

And what about the doubles rubber?

Leander Paes, coming off the back of a Challenger title win in Mexico, finally landed in the city and was available for practice for the first time on the day while Rohan Bopanna, the other doubles hand, has been at it since the beginning of the week.

“(I’m) seeing Leander for the first time today. So let’s see how it goes. He looks fresh. Let’s see after he plays some sets in practice,” the captain said.