The celebrations seemed slightly over the top. Multiple victory laps, a special guard of honour for non-playing captain Anand Amritraj, the waving of the tricolor with speakers blaring patriotic songs in the background at the Indore Tennis Club. They did it twice – once after clinching the tie following the doubles win on Saturday and then again after winning both reverse singles completing the 5-0 whitewash of Chinese Taipei on Sunday.
One could mistake it for a famous win in the World Group instead of a victory over a depleted opponent in round one of continental playoffs. It was a small step in that direction, nevertheless. And it showed what it meant to the players.
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For long, the Indian Davis Cup team has been a divided house; there has been a lot of bickering within. Not much faith was laid on this young bunch as well. But led by Amritraj and coach-cum-selector Zeeshan Ali, they came up with a clinical win.
It reflected in the way they played and supported each other during the three days of this tie. But this was just the first hurdle that India has crossed en route to regaining the spot in the elite group of top-16 teams. And to qualify for the world group and continue staying there, it will take much more than just healthy team spirit.
Contrary to what the score line suggests, the win against Taipei was hardly the expected cakewalk. Even Ali said they were ‘lucky’ to be 2-0 ahead by the end of first two rubbers. Taipei, without their top two players, exposed India’s shortcomings and almost made it count. Somdev Devvarman would consider himself extremely fortunate to win his tie, which was dragged out over five sets, and the doubles team of Rohan Bopanna and Saketh Myneni too were not convincing. Yuki Bhambri, who braved an injury to win the opening rubber, enhanced his reputation with a ruthless performance in the reverse singles against Hsein-Yin Peng.
Work in progress
This team is still a work in progress. The rebuilding process in the post Lee-Hesh era was always going to be an arduous process. So if anything, the tie against Taipei will be a reassurance for Amritraj and Ali that they are heading in the right direction. Next match against South Korea, where the same team is likely to be retained, will provide a clearer picture. India will enter the tie against the unfancied Koreans as favourites and if they win, they will qualify for the world group playoff, which will be this bunch’s ultimate test.
Former Davis Cupper Vijay Amritraj was bullish about the current crop’s prospects. “We can get to the World Group. The boys are good enough. Yuki played well against (world number 16) Fabio Fognini (during Chennai open). Those kinds of matches give you confidence. He is getting into his prime and is physically strong. Saketh can also do the same,” he said.
Amritraj Sr, however, insisted that the likes of Bhambri and youngster Ramkumar Ramanathan, who have age on their side, should not be afraid of making slight technical adjustments to their game, which will make them more potent. “Somdev and Rohan are experienced and their game cannot be changed at this time but Ramkumar is young and his game can be changed. Even Yuki has a similar advantage.”
For a country that hasn’t achieved much on the ATP Tour, India has constantly punched above its weight in the Davis Cup and have a proud record in the competition. The presence of Amritraj and Ali – both of whom who have had plenty of success in the past – is vital, according to the players.
“They have so much experience playing in this competition. We try to pick their brains and get the smallest of tips. That was one of the reasons I could win my match,” Devvarman said. “We are happy to win this tie. But our ultimate goal is to qualify for the world group. These are baby steps towards it.”
Bhambri, Myneni win
Saketh Myneni and Yuki Bhambri recorded dominating straight-set victories as India completed a 5-0 rout of Chinese Taipei in the first round of their Asia/Oceania Group I Davis Cup tie on Sunday. The 26-year-old Myneni, ranked 313, took just 48 minutes to dispatch higher-ranked Tsung Hua Yang 6-1 6-4 in the dead fourth rubber while 22-year-old Bhambri beat Hsien-Yin Peng 7-5 6-0 in the second reverse.