Rohan Bopanna, preferred over veteran Leander Paes, insisted that practicing together with N Sriram Balaji for a week made a huge “difference” as they sealed the Davis Cup tie for India with an easy win on Saturday. Bopanna and Balaji outclassed the Uzbek pair of Farrukh Dustov and Sanjar Fayziev in straight sets as India took an unassailable 3-0 lead in the tie.
“For the last one week, we all have been practicing together. I think that makes a difference. It does not matter how many times the partners have played together in various tournaments but they need to be practising together before any event. Playing together always builds camaraderie,” Bopanna told reporters.
Apparently Bopanna was referring to Paes reaching the Rio Olympics venue just a day before their doubles campaign was to start. Bopanna had also made it clear that his game was not compatible with Paes’ but AITA had still made them a team for the Olympics. They crashed out in the first round.
Asked what tips he gave to Balaji, who made his India debut, Bopanna said he advised the youngster to take the match “just as other normal match”. “It showed on the floor today. He was very relaxed. I was encouraging him every moment of the match. In any match, the nerves will be there,” he said. “Not only I encouraged Bala, but he also did the same when we won points for our country.”
Balaji said the team kept him relaxed. “Thanks to Rohan and Mahesh. They did not make me feel that I am a debutant. They were encouraging and supporting me all the time. The pressure was on me. I knew what I should be focusing on and was doing just that (not on the negative talks about doubles’ selection). I played my game,” he said.
He also said that the team made sure that they would take advantage of the prevailing conditions including the altitude and the speedy court.
The omission of Paes for the first time from Davis Cup team in 27 years angered the veteran, who lashed out at Bhupathi for dropping him. Asked how confident was he about India’s performance in the world play-offs group tie, Bhupathi said anything is possible if players such serve big enough and also factors like home conditions and draw, play a big role in a tie’s outcome.