India bank on ‘outside chance’ against Serbia

The Asian Age.  | Deepika Das

Sports, Tennis

According to Myneni, winning the singles rubber on the first day will be crucial.

The Indian team pose for a selfie in Belgrade.

New Delhi: India are hopeful of an “outside chance” despite odds being against them in their Davis Cup World Group play-off tie with hosts Serbia in Kraljevo beginning on Friday.

On Sunday the Indian team started their practice in Belgrade at an indoor facility with clay courts as they were not getting practice courts at the tournament venue before Wednesday.

“We are playing a very strong team who even without Novak Djokovic have three singles players in the top 100. So, yes on paper it’s an uphill task but our players have also been doing well in the last six months and unlike in the past where we didn’t have players who could play very well on clay, we now have players like Prajnesh (Gunneswaran), Ramkumar (Ramanathan) and (N. Sriram) Balaji, who have been training on clay in Europe for the past few years. This gives me confidence that there could be an outside chance for us to pull this off. It’s Davis Cup and anything is possible,” Indian team coach Zeeshsan Ali told this paper from Belgrade on Tuesday.

Zeeshan was “surprised” with the decision of the hosts to choose play indoors as the weather is pleasant in Kraljevo during this part of the year. In the absence of new US Open champion Djokovic, the hosts will be led by Filip Krajinovic and Dusan Lajovic. Krajinovic is world No. 33 now while the 28-year-old Lajovic,  a regular for his team since the 2016, is 68 in world rankings.

“We had our first practice session on Sunday and the mood in the camp is very good. We will be practicing in Belgrade till Tuesday and leave for Kraljevo on Wednesday. All the players are injury free and practicing hard,” the coach added.

The pull outs of the two top players — Divij Sharan and Yuki Bhambri — in the eleventh hour was a major blow for India and it paved way for the inclusion of Balaji and Saketh Myneni while Pune boy Arjun Kadhe was kept on stand-by. “After Divij pulled out with shoulder injury, our next choice was Balaji. He is a powerful player with a big serve and groundstrokes. Plus, he has been playing a lot of doubles off late. Rohan Bopanna and Balaji have played Davis Cup together in the past and have won for us. Mahesh (Bhupathi) and me both felt that having Balaji in the team would be our best bet,” the Bengaluru-based Ali said.

‘Winning singles will be crucial’
According to Myneni, winning the singles rubber on the first day will be crucial.

“Serbia enjoy the home court advantage. We need to prepare thoroughly to challenge them. We have a fair chance and hopefully we will win,” Myneni said.

Myneni had an injury lay-off in 2017 for about six-seven months but he was happy to be back in the fold, who last played in the world group playoff against Canada.

“I am happy with the call and ready to go to the battle. Last few months has been crucial for me… I am trying to stay healthy. All of us are looking forward for the tie,” the Vishakhapatnam boy added.

Meanwhile, Kadhe is also excited to don the national colours once again, who was last named reserve player in 2013, before going to college in America.

“This time it’s special for me because I had to start from zero points and ranking after I finished college not even a year ago.

“I was in China playing a challenger last week, so I’m match sharp. I think I had a good year and I am super excited for 2019 as I think I’m improving with experience with each tournament. My goal is to get into top 100 doubles and 200 in singles in the coming year,” said Kadhe, who trains the Adhar Poonawala Maharashtra Tennis Academy under Hemant Bendrey and Kedar Shah.