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Semi-columns: Advantage court at home in Cup ties

The usual guidelines about the invincibles and the journeymen are set aside in the Davis Cup.

April 3, 2014 1:49:34 am

Such is the paucity of players in South Korea that 38-year-old Hyung-Taik Lee (former world No. 36) has been forced out of retirement for this weekend’s Davis Cup Asia Oceania round two tie against India in Busan.

Yet, India enter the tie with considerable trepidation. Despite boasting of a better Davis Cup tradition and superior players, India have not managed to beat South Korea in South Korea in their previous four visits.

The usual guidelines about the invincibles and the journeymen are set aside in the Davis Cup. The boisterous, partisan atmosphere is almost completely at odds with the ‘silence, please’ feel of a traditional tennis tournament. And the hosts around the world will do everything they can within the rules to make home advantage count. Like Korea have.

Through the 1990s and the noughties, when the Indians preferred grass courts, South Korea hosted Davis Cup ties on slow clay and hard courts. Playing in alien conditions and on unfavourable surfaces, Indians disintegrated. South Korea have opted for slow outdoor courts this weekend too. And even though it shouldn’t pose a problem for India as it did in the past, it’s hardly surprising to see them adopt a rather cautious approach.

It’s a similar story elsewhere too. Germany, for instance, made the most of their home advantage to eliminate potential title contenders Spain in the first round last January. They hosted the tie on indoor hard court against a Spanish team that would have preferred clay.

At times, the countries hope to exploit their opponents’ weaknesses instead of focusing on their own strengths, like USA did against Great Britain in January. Knowing that Andy Murray has long encountered physical challenges when playing on clay, particularly when adapting from hard courts, the Americans chose to go with clay.

Maximum crowd support was ensured by converting a baseball field into a tennis court. Sadly, it backfired. Italy, nevertheless, have adopted a similar strategy and will host their quarterfinal against Britain this weekend on clay courts as the players return from a gruelling hard court season that concluded in Miami last week.

Mihir is a senior correspondent

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