India’s doubles conundrum continues ahead of Monday’s Davis Cup selection committee meeting for the upcoming second round Asia/Oceania Group 1 tie against Uzbekistan. The AITA selectors have ascertained that versatile player Saketh Myneni is still unavailable for the Davis Cup squad, adding to the intrigue over the doubles rubber where Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna will be up for selection in what is Mahesh Bhupathi’s first tie as non-playing captain.
“Saketh and Sumit (Nagal) are both out. They haven’t recovered yet,” coach and selector Zeeshan Ali said. The 29-year-old Myneni’s absence puts the selectors in a quandary since he has been a vital cog in India’s recent Davis Cup ties. “He’s a good player in both singles and doubles. That versatility allows us to put him in a singles rubber if a singles player cannot play one match,” says Ali.
Ali maintains that despite Myneni not being available for the tie, a three-singles-one-doubles strategy is the better combination to have for the team that will host Uzbekistan in Bangalore next month. “As coach, I feel the 3+1 combo is best suited for the tie. We know that none of the four doubles players available to us (Rohan Bopanna, Leander Paes, Divij Sharan and Purav Raja) will be able to play a five-set singles rubber if needed. So it’s important to have an extra singles player in case of an emergency,” he adds.
The strategy of picking just one doubles player came under scrutiny last month during India’s tie against New Zealand. Just a day before the draw ceremony, Myneni was forced to pull out with a foot injury, which he is still recovering from. At the 11th hour, the team roped in Vishnu Vardhan, a doubles specialist, as replacement. Paes-Vishnu lost the doubles rubber.
The singles selection should be a straightforward affair, with Ramkumar Ramanathan and Yuki Bhambri being the certain picks. Should the selectors pick three singles players, Prajnesh Gunneswaran will be a front-runner, while N Sriram Balaji may come in as a reserve. Teenager Sumit Nagal, meanwhile is yet to fully recover from a shoulder surgery and is out of contention. “In this case, Yuki is the better doubles option, but the concern here is that he may not be able to play three days of five-set matches,” Ali adds.
In the past, India has opted for three singles and one doubles players for zonal matches, and a two-two combination for World Group Playoff ties. But with the Uzbeks spearheaded by world number 68 Denis Istomin — who famously defeated Novak Djokovic at 2017 Australian Open — the doubles tie becomes all the more important. As he did against South Korea, Istomin is likely to play on all three days. “If we manage to finish the first day at 1-1, the doubles match becomes crucial to get back into the tie,” Ali says.
It begs the question, what combination will be ideal, picking just one doubles player or two.