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Davis Cup: A fresh challenge

Young India team, without experienced Paes or Bhupathi, take on Chinese Taipei in Davis Cup.

Indore |
Updated: January 31, 2014 4:51:48 pm
Davis Cup: Somdev Devvarman will take on world No. 284 Ti Chen (File/AP) Davis Cup: Somdev Devvarman will take on world No. 284 Ti Chen (File/AP)

The Indian Davis Cup team, for most part of the last decade, hasn’t quite been a happy family. Rohan Bopanna and Somdev Devvarman do acknowledge that uncomfortable past, but they won’t say it in as many words. They do exchange glances each time there is a mention of Leander Paes or Mahesh Bhupathi at the press conference on eve of the team’s Davis Cup against Chinese Taipei but they stick to speaking about the present.

Devvarman and Bopanna have both debuted in Davis Cup teams that were divided in camps led by the two seniors in the side. But Friday will mark a new beginning. India will embark on its journey to return to the Davis Cup World Group with a Group I playoff at the Indore Tennis Club here. For the first time since Devvaraman and Bopanna first earned the national colours, India will be without two old hands. Paes has ‘opted’ out of the Cup for a year while Bhupathi has been dropped.

The absence of the two stalwarts has changed the team hierarchy.

“That’s how we want it to be. Last night during team dinner, the rookies in the team were made to dance in front of everyone. I don’t know if they are happy with that kind of leadership but we want it to be fun,” says Devvarman, who sees himself as the leader of the pack along with Bopanna. “It’s actually more friendship than leadership. When the team was announced, Jeevan (Nedunchezhiyan) called me and asked what kind of suit he needs to bring.”

Saketh Myneni, who is set to make his Davis Cup debut, chips in: “I got a rough deal, though. They made me dance even the last time in Chandigarh (he was a reserve player for the tie vs New Zealand). I told them but they would have none of it. I had to dance again. It was fun.”

The banter doesn’t stop among the players, who’ve trained together during the off-season, something unheard off in the past. The question is, will they be able to translate the off-court chemistry into success on it?

On the face of it, the tie against Chinese Taipei looks rather straightforward. The visitors, after all, are without their top two players — world No. 54 Yen-Hsun Lu and No. 154 Jimmy Wang. Their highest ranked player who is here, Tsung-Hua Yang (216) is 43 places below India’s second-best singles player Yuki Bhambri (173) on the Tour.

Yuki to open

Yang and Bhambri will get the tie underway on Friday, as decided in an elaborate draw ceremony held at a local school. Organisers claim nearly 4,000 people, mostly school students, turned up to witness the event. The players were introduced to the crowd in a NBA-like style, where they all jogged down the ramp with the spotlight on them.

Of course, the loudest cheers were reserved for Devvarman and Bopanna. Devvarman, who’s had a forgettable start to the year, will take on world No. 284 Ti Chen. The top-ranked singles player of the country had defeated Chen in straight sets during India’s hard-fought 3-2 win over Taipei in 2009 — the only previous meeting between two sides.

That team had Lee and Hesh. Devvarman was still in his second year as a pro and finding his feet around the Davis Cup team whereas Bopanna was far from being the Mr Reliable that he is today. A lot has changed in five years. They have now assumed the leadership role and want to do things differently.

“Important thing is to have good camaraderie. It’s about being friends with the guys and help them through in things they have never seen before. If we do that, if we have positive energy around, then the results will automatically come on court,” Devvarman says.

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