The Indian Davis Cup team finds itself in a very rare position. For years, the singles rubbers haven’t been its Achilles heel. They have struggled to put two specialist singles players on court who have a decent chance of winning.
Somdev Devvarman, the only player to have breached the top-100 and to have stayed there of the current lot, has shouldered the burden in both the singles matches in recent times. In Yuki Bhambri, though, India may have finally found the second singles player it so desperately needed. The 21-year-old’s recent good run and fairly clinical display against Chinese Taipei, winning both his singles, has soared expectations. Of course, a second-string Taipei team may not be the right platform to judge but the early indications are positive.
What, however, is of concern is the team combination in doubles, which has always assured a point for India – be it in the continental playoffs or the world group. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, who have represented India in the doubles for a major part of last decade, have won 25 of 27 matches. But with Paes opting out of national duty for a year and Bhupathi’s future in the side uncertain, the team finds itself in a tricky situation.
Paes and Bhupathi stopped playing together for India after the tie against Brazil in 2010. Since then, India have tried various combinations with mixed luck. Rohan Bopanna has played a central role, partnering Paes and Bhupathi as and when required, but India have run out of options as far as specialist doubles players are concerned. Purav Raja, Divij Sharan, Vishnu Vardhan and Sanam Singh have all been given an opportunity in the last four years but they’ve failed to grab it.
Against Taipei last weekend, 26-year-old Saketh Myneni was paired with Bopanna. Though the duo won, it wasn’t convincing. They are likely to be paired together against South Korea in the next round as well. Such makeshift arrangements while work in India’s favour versus Asian opponents, but they will need specialist players to succeed against tougher opponents. If India harbours hopes of qualifying for the World Group and staying there, it needs to look at building a strong doubles team again.
Mihir is a senior correspondent with the Indian Express in Mumbai.