The Indian Davis Cup team will have to pass its toughest test yet to return to the World Group after being drawn against top seeds and last year’s finalists Serbia in the playoff tie on Tuesday. Fortunately for India, it will be a home tie for them since they traveled to Serbia during the last encounter between the two teams in 2011.
The tie, which will be held from September 12 to 14, raises the possibility of multiple-time Grand Slam winner and world No. 2 Novak Djokovic making his maiden appearance in the country. However, Djokovic may skip the tie, as he did when the last time these two sides met, considering it will be held immediately after the US Open.
Bogdan Obradovic-led Serbia will face India for the second time in three years in a bid to maintain their World Group status, having defeated India 4-1 on their most recent foray into the top tier of the competition in the first round in 2011.
The Indian Davis Cup team on Sunday entered the World Group playoffs after notching up a historic away triumph over South Korea in the Group I Asia/Oceania second round tie at Busan. As hosts, India will get to choose the surface on which the games will be played during the tie.
All India Tennis Association (AITA) said they will consult the players over the next few weeks and decide the venue and surface within a month or two. Early indications are that either New Delhi or Chennai may be chosen. The RK Khanna tennis stadium, where previous ties have been held, is furnished with hard courts but the center court at the venue is known to be slower than what is usual for the surface.
India’s top tennis player Somdev Devvarman is most comfortable on such a surface where his retrieval game will come into play.
In fact, Somdev won a challenger event in Delhi at the very courts a month or so back. The other venue under discussion will be the Nungambakkam tennis stadium, the venue of the Chennai Open.
The courts here, though, are considerably quicker. India bested the much better ranked Brazil in a Davis Cup at Chennai in 2010. Incidentally, Chennai had hosted a Davis Cup tie after 31 years at that point.
India’s Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali said their top priority will be to have a specialised doubles pair for the playoff tie. Leander Paes has opted out of national team commitments this year whereas Mahesh Bhupathi has been sidelined after his run-in with the All India Tennis Association (AITA).
Ali said he was satisfied with the performance of Saketh Myneni and Rohan Bopanna in India’s last two ties but insisted doubles specialists were needed to ensure the team does not drop the valuable point. “
Devvarman’s form against Serbia would prove to be crucial. Davis Cup invariably brings out the best out in him, as he has proven not only in the ties against Chinese Taipei and South Korea but also during India’s previous encounter against Serbia. Devvarman had stunned Janko Tipsarevic in straight sets in that tie.
Ali said he and non-playing captain Anand Amritraj have tried to bring Devvarman out of the defensive mould, which reaped dividends last weekend. “During the entire week, we worked on various aspects of his game. We told him to come to the net more often during the net and he executed that plan to perfection during both his rubbers,” Ali said.
It will also be interesting to see if upcoming prospect Ramkumar Ramanathan might be considered to make the side, considering it was doubles specialist Sanam Singh who played, and lost, the singles tie.
Spain meets Brazil
Meanwhile, Spain and Argentina also face a fight to remain in the World Group following Tuesday’s draw, with Carlos Moya’s five-time champions needing to come away with a win in Brazil and four-time runner-up Argentina due to travel to Israel.
Australia, Canada and USA have been handed more favourable home draws, with Pat Rafter’s men hosting Uzbekistan, USA taking on Slovak Republic and Canada granted a home tie against Colombia.
The remaining two ties will see Croatia travel to Netherlands in a draw decided by lot, and Ukraine set to host Belgium.