In a bold decision, India’s non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi on Tuesday opted for four singles players in the squad, keeping veteran Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna as reserve members, for the Davis Cup tie against Uzbekistan.
Ramkumar Ramanathan (ranked 269), Yuki Bhambri (307), Prajnesh Gunneswaran (325) and N Sriram Balaji (350) are in the playing squad for the tie scheduled from April 7 to 9 in Bengaluru.
It is difficult to remember when was the last time India named a team which had all the singles specialists.
Doubles has always been considered India’s strength and Bhupathi and Paes together made for a formidable force not only in Davis Cup but also on the ATP World Tour in late 1990s.
Bhupathi had said that he has the option of having only singles players in the team and as of now he has exercised his right to have the team of his choice.
However, things can turn out to be different since rules permit for a change of two members before the tie begins.
A press release by AITA stated that the team was chosen by the selection committee in consultation with the captain and that a seventh member was also added in Vishnu Vardhan for practice.
Bhupathi had said the performance of the players will be kept in mind before deciding the final four and he claims to have done exactly that.
“I have been tracking them. I need to reward results,” Bhupathi told PTI when asked about the thought behind selecting four singles players.
The captain, though, admitted that he can bring in either Paes or Bopanna if required.
“If needed, yes,” was his terse reply when asked about the possibility of playing one of the two doubles reserves.
Bopanna and Paes endured disappointing results after the announcement of the six-member squad. Both lost in the opening round of the Indian Wells Masters event and crashed out of the first round in the following Challenger event in Irving, US.
Paes is on the cusp of a Davis Cup world record and it will probably be his last chance to get it on home turf. He is tied on 42 doubles wins with Italy’s Nicola Pietrangeli and one more victory will make him the most successful doubles player in the Davis Cup history.
He missed out on the coveted record when he lost the doubles rubber of the New Zealand tie alongside Vishnu.
Yuki has reached two semifinals (Zhuhai and Shenzen) and won an ITF Futures in Chandigarh after the tie against New Zealand in Pune in February.
Ramkumar has been struggling this season and has managed just one win in the main draw of a Challenger event after the Pune tie.
Balaji has been consistent, making three singles finals. He won one title (Jorhat) and ended runner-up to Yuki (Chandigarh) and Prajnesh (Bhilai) recently. He also won three doubles Futures titles.
Prajnesh has not played much but won the Bhilai Futures title. He lost in the first qualifying round of the ATP 500 Dubai Championships and the final qualifying round of the Kyoto Challenger.