A not-so-subtle inquiry by Feliciano Lopez during the US Open last week gave Saketh Myneni enough indication that Spain were planning to send a full-strength team for the Davis Cup. Lounging around in the players’ area, Myneni bumped into the Spanish World No.18 at Flushing Meadows. “He asked me how long the flight to Delhi was, and Spain hadn’t even announced their team yet. So I knew he would be coming,” India’s top-ranked singles player says.
Even otherwise, Spain’s decision to send its heavyweights, including Rafael Nadal, for the World Group Playoff tie this weekend here wouldn’t have surprised Myneni. Unlike most countries whose star players turn up only for the semifinal and final, Spanish players have never shied away from Davis Cup duties.
Their last tie against Romania was an exception, and they were forced to play without Nadal and Ferrer because they weren’t fit. “For the last 10 years they (Spain) have been fighting for the title. They have been there, done that. They have always been like this. Nadal knows the history (attached) with Davis Cup,” Myneni says.
As a depleted India began its preparation for the September 16-18 tie on Sunday, the talk at the centre court of the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA) primarily was about damage control, about avoiding a whitewash, about giving the former champions a fight. It’s not just Spain’s might, the fact that India are without it’s three top players further dents their chances of giving the visitors a fight. Rohan Bopanna, who was to partner Leander Paes in doubles, withdrew from the team on Saturday apparently due to a knee problem. He joined singles specialists Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri in the injured list.
For Myneni, who has forever lived in the shadows of his more established peers, this is the chance to step out of it. A very, very tough one; but a chance nonetheless. This has been a breakthrough year of sorts for him. He played his first Grand Slam and gave a good account of himself. But for cramps, he could’ve beaten a high-ranked Jiri Vesely in the first round of US Open and set up a meeting with Novak Djokovic.
The physical discomfort he experienced will inevitably put a question mark over his fitness. It will be tested once again against Spain, where he might have to take the load of playing doubles apart from two singles rubbers.Myneni, who was Bopanna’s choice as a partner for the Rio Olympics, has had reasonable success in doubles but coach Zeeshan Ali said they haven’t decided on who will partner Paes, with young Sumit Nagal being the other choice.
The 28-year-old has never played three days consecutively, though.
It’ll be a ‘tough challenge’ to be on court for the entire weekend, Myneni admits, but he is willing to do that, fitness permitting. “I just have to keep it fresh. I skipped a tournament in Shanghai last week to make sure my body gets some rest,” he says, after a routine practice session. “If body permits me, I am ready to play all three days.”
India, in fact, would do well just to keep the tie alive till the third day. The Spanish team comprising Nadal, David Ferrer and the two Lopez’s – Feliciano and Marc – are scheduled to arrive on Monday. It’s easily one of the toughest opponents India will face in recent times. But Myneni insists they can’t afford to get overawed or star-struck. “Three wins would make me and my team happy,” he says, before realistically adding, “We have to remain competitive. We can’t be blown out. Despite the stars they have, we have to compete and challenge them until the last second. We will keep fighting.”