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Waiting for a miracle, India ready for Russia

A whole Iron Curtain has been swept aside since these two nations last faced off in the Davis Cup. Russia was then the the West’s favourite ‘evil’ empire and the brain of the larger USSR, reports Sukhwant Basra.

other Updated: Mar 04, 2010 01:04 IST
Sukhwant Basra

A whole Iron Curtain has been swept aside since these two nations last faced off in the Davis Cup. Russia was then the the West’s favourite ‘evil’ empire and the brain of the larger USSR.

India won that 1986 World Group play-off tie 4-1 to begin a campaign that would only falter in the final next year. As of now, this entry into the final-16 of a 125-nation competition is the best India has managed over the last 11 years.

Russia, meanwhile, has made huge strides. They were champions in 2002 and 2006 and have not lost a home tie in 14 years.

The tennis fortunes of both nations have taken diametrically opposite pathways in the last 34 years since their last encounter. Russia has three top-100 players and Somdev Devvarman at 128 is India’s lone warrior in the top-200. World No. 3 Nikolay Davydenko, who hasn’t turned up for practice on a single day, is all but ruled out with a wrist injury.

That may be a bit of a relief but that lasts only till one examines the court that the hosts have put together, literally, at the ice rink of the Luzhniki — the Small Sports Arena.

Made of planks of plywood over a drained-out ice skating rink, the court has been covered with an abrasive coating of synthetic that just eats away the pace from a whirling tennis ball.

Yellow felt litters the surface and in the span of three games, the ball morphs into a fluffy caricature of its once darty self. This court is going to demand a load of obeisance. It deigns long rallies; it asks a lot from the legs.

“It’s slow. It suits me. Each point will have to be worked for and there will be few free points coming on this one,” says an upbeat Devvarman peering at his tennis shoes that have sprouted a stubble on account of the yellow littering the courts.

Won’t it dilute the big serve of India’s other main man, Rohan Bopanna? “It can negate that advantage,” concedes captain SP Misra. “But he is playing really well, hitting clean and has adapted really quick.”

Bopanna has earned the moniker Bofors on account of that booming serve and if cheap points are tough to come by, it will boil down to the staying power of his legs.

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi joined practice and Paes immediately pointed out: “No quick points this weekend. This court will be a grind.” For a team that is the oldest, in terms of average age, in the World Group, the veterans may be the only saving grace. But, sport revels in uncertainty.

Perhaps the Gods have a script worthy of India’s former glory in this event.

Perhaps miracles still happen.