“Will India suffer same fate as PV Sindhu against Carolina Marin in Rio de Janeiro?”
A Spanish travel portal, in an advertorial for tour packages for this weekend’s Davis Cup tie, left the question unanswered. The World Group playoff tie between India and Spain, beginning today, might not actually be the same as the Olympic final. Many, including some in the Indian team, fear it might be a far more one-sided affair instead.
Nearly 200 spots separate the two players who’ll get the tie underway. Ramkumar Ramanathan, ranked 203, couldn’t mask his anxiousness when he was drawn to play world no. 4 Rafael Nadal in the first rubber on Friday. The 21-year-old looked at Nadal and smiled nervously before staring at the floor for a couple of minutes. “Hopefully, the butterflies will go early,” Ramanathan’s teammate Saketh Myneni said of him.
Myneni’s draw, too, is not easy by any means. He will be up against David Ferrer, ranked 124 places above him. “We need to prove we can last. That’s the first question,” the 28-year-old admits. “It depends on how we start our matches. Hopefully, one of us can manage a big upset.”
India have historically punched above their weight in Davis Cup. They have given heavyweights like Serbia and Czech Republic a scare in the last two years but neither of the teams came with the firepower like Spain have.
Spain, who’ve won the Davis Cup five times since turn of the century, have faced the ignominy of competing in the lower rungs of the tournament for the last two years. This, they can sense, is their opportunity to return to the elite group and are in no mood throw it away like they did against Russia a year ago.
For umpteenth time this week, Nadal reiterated how ‘tough’ it is for Spain to be outside the World Group. “We belong there and this is our chance,” he said again on Thursday.
A win here would somewhat heal the pain Nadal has endured in what has been one of the most difficult years on tour for him. The fourth round defeat at the US Open meant 2016 was the first year since 2004 that Nadal has not made the quarterfinal of a Grand Slam.
Incidentally, it was in 2004 that he won his first Davis Cup title, playing a pivotal role in Spain’s win over the USA. He added three more to his tally in 2008, 2009 and 2011, with Ferrer along side him on all three occasions.
Despite the yawning gap between the two teams, Nadal said the conditions can swing the tie in India’s favour.
“May be we have better names and on ranking we’re higher but India team knows the conditions well so the home advantage will be with them, so it will be a tough one,” he said.
The humidity has been the talking point whole week. While the Spaniards have expressed concerns over it, India are hoping their two singles players will be able to take advantage of it. They could not manage to do that against the Czech last year (when the matches were played during the day time) and struggled against South Korea in Chandigarh in July.
But Myneni says conditions won’t be the deciding factor. “In the end, we will have to play some really, really good tennis to stand a chance,” he says.
India’s non-playing captain Anand Amritraj said the two Indians will have to be smart and mix things up, not getting too predictable. “Nadal and Ferrer are two of the best defensive guys on Tour. We are playing the legends. You don’t want to overdo anything,” Myneni, who lost a close first round match against Jiri Vesely at the US Open last week, said. “It’s important for us not to get over-awed by the reputation of the opponents as well. First set will be crucial for both of us.”
Ramanathan said it’ll be important to play ‘aggressive’ tennis. It’s an aspect that helped Sindhu win the silver. But India will do well if they manage to put up a fight half as much as Sindhu did against Marin.