Saturdays in Davis Cup usually determine which way the tie swings. Last weekend, France triggered a turnaround by winning the doubles rubber after going down 0-2 to Germany.
Simultaneously in Busan, Rohan Bopanna and Saketh Myneni calmed India’s nerves by winning the crucial match against South Korea, tilting the momentum in the favour of India before Somdev Devvarman wrapped up the tie on Sunday.
Come September, India will host Novak Djokovic-led Serbia in the World Group playoff tie. It will be a repeat of the 2011 World Group encounter, which India lost the 4-1 despite making a promising start. Back then, a makeshift doubles pair of Bopanna and Devvarman became India’s undoing after the inexperienced touring side had put Serbia on the backfoot on opening day.
In the singles, Bopanna had stretched Victor Troicki to five sets and Devvarman had beaten top-ranked Serbian in the tie, Janko Tipsarevic. However, the doubles loss to unheralded pair of Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac sealed the tie for Serbia.
Having a strong doubles team will be crucial if India hope to give themselves a chance of pulling off an upset against the top seeds. In India’s last two ties, Myneni paired up with Bopanna and though the duo has won on both occasions, they haven’t been convincing. The team management seems to have realised that such makeshift arrangements will work in India’s favour only at continental level.
So not surprisingly, coach Zeeshan Ali said after Sunday’s win that having a specialist doubles team for the playoff will be imperative, which means either Leander Paes or Mahesh Bhupathi will be asked to partner Bopanna.
The team atmosphere under Ali and non-playing captain Anand Amritraj may help young Indian team but the side lacks experience of playing in big Davis Cup ties.
Paes has opted out of national duty this year whereas Bhupathi has fallen out of favour after taking on the federation before the London Olympics. Against Serbia, the duo’s experience will come in handy for India as it hopes to return to the World Group after three years. Whether the old guards bury the hatchet and answer the call of duty remains to be seen.
(Mihir is a senior correspondent. He is based in Mumbai.)