Bengaluru: Eyeing their fourth Davis Cup World Group play-offs in a row, India host Uzbekistan in the Asia/Oceania Group I second round tie in Bengaluru from Friday.
At a venue that saw the hosts almost pull off a victory against Serbia three years ago, Mahesh Bhupathi takes over as captain for the first time without the two standout performers from that game. While Somdev Devvarman has hung up his racquet, India’s most decorated doubles player Leander Paes was dropped from the squad by the non-playing captain on the eve of the encounter.
Historically, contests between these two sides have ended with the hosts emerging victors. The head-to-head is two-all, this being the first occasion they meet on hard courts.
The home side head into the match with a largely inexperienced side that includes two debutants in Prajnesh Gunneswaran (world no. 287) and Sriram Balaji (doubles ranking 223) while their top singles player for the rubber, Ramkumar Ramanathan (267) will play his fourth tie, come Friday.
Rohan Bopanna (doubles no. 24), named ahead of Paes (53) as the doubles specialist, remains the lone experienced campaigner as Bhupathi stuck to his word of going in with three singles and one doubles player. Ramk-umar and Prajnesh are the number one and two singles players while Bopanna and Balaji will take over in the doubles competition.
Predictable Uzbek side
Uzbekistan, devoid of the services and star power of Denis Istomin, named a predictable side with Sanjar Fayziev leading the ranks with Temur Ismailov (406), Farrukh Dustov and Jurabek Karimov.
Fayziev will be pulling triple duty as he is also slated to play the doubles tie along with Dustov.
The opening day will feature Ramkumar taking on Ismailov in the first match, followed by Prajnesh’s tie against Fayziev.
Both teams will be missing their top singles player, Yuki Bhambri having pulled out, and with such fine margin of error, the tie may well be decided on who handles the physical and mental load of five set matches, which are quite alien to the singles players.
Ramkumar, having taken a set off Felicano Lopez in the playoffs against Spain, will be confident of his abilities while Fayziev’s five-set loss to South Korea’s rising star Hyeon Chung in the last clash bodes well for the world number 376 despite of the result.
In the doubles tie which often proves to be the turning point, the Indian pair have their work cut out for them.
The fact that the Fayziev will have played the previous day and his veteran partner not having played competitive matches in six months could work in India’s favour but if India are to lose the rubber that was once their forte it could well raise questions over the selection made by the captain.
The weather is expected to tend towards the sunny side despite evening showers over the past couple of days in what has been an already sweltering summer. Add to that the altitude, whoever wins will surely earn the result.