On paper, India’s tie against New Zealand in the Davis Cup is expected to be a cakewalk. India has won the last five ties between the two, and they’re well ahead in terms of rankings. Saketh Myneni, the top ranked singles player for the hosts is at 205 in the world, compared to Finn Tearney’s 414 for the Kiwis. Still, the outgoing non-playing captain Anand Amritraj is worried.
On the sidelines of his team’s first day of practice at the Balewadi Stadium in Pune, the 65-year-old asserts that he’s yet to decide the team that will play the tie.
“It looks very lopsided on paper, and that’s the problem. There’s more pressure on us. Ties like Spain and Serbia are easier because we don’t really have a chance and go out and play without fear. But these ones, we’re expected to win,” he says.
Though the visitors’ two singles players, Tearney and Jose Statham (417) are lower ranked compared to the Indian options, that include Myneni, Ramkumar Ramanathan (276) and Yuki Bhambri (368), the hosts haven’t had a promising start to the year – Myneni and Ramkumar are yet to win a match this season.
Rankings are deceptive when it comes to the Davis Cup, and the Indians know it from close quarters. Somdev Devvarman had once beaten Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic, and Leander Paes had gotten the better of Goran Ivanisevic and 1988 French Open finalist Henri Leconte.
“Rankings don’t mean much often,” asserts New Zealand’s Artem Sitak. “It’s going to be a battle and you never know about it in the Davis Cup. Every match will be close,” he stresses, debunking the assumption that only doubles will be challenging.
Sitak had partnered Marcus Daniell in the 2015 clash against India, beating Myneni and Rohan Bopanna in the doubles rubber.
This time around, it’s expected that Sitak will partner Michael Venus against the possible Indian pairing of Paes and Myneni — though Amritraj is keeping his cards close to his chest. Incidentally, the visitors’ doubles team is ranked better than the Indians. Sitak is 56 and Venus is on 36, while Paes trails on 64. And just like Amritraj, the Kiwis are weighing up their tactics.
“On tour, you know everyone really well and you more or less know how to play a person. Hopefully we can strategise well and bring it on court,” Sitak adds.
The tie is Amritraj’s last as non-playing captain. Possibly Paes’ last as well with the Davis Cup team. It is expected that the New Zealand tie will give the veteran a perfect sending off. Yet this tie is trickier than they would have hoped.