Indian Davis Cup captain SP Misra is looking for a shaman. "These clouds need to disappear," he spoke vehemently to the Chennai sky with marked disapproval. "We chose this venue because we wanted the Brazilians to feel the heat, wish we had a way of letting the clouds understand that."
As the day wore on, the more compliant clouds drifted away but some obstinate ones clung on. As the afternoon got more humid, Misra grew happier.
India relies heavily on the heat and the familiarity of our players with this venue.
Our leading player Somdev Devvarman does not get high on grass. He said a firm 'no' when the big surface question was popped. Rohan Bopanna was in favour of what has proved to be greener pasture for Indian hopes in the past but in Indian Davis Cup the top singles player is king. After all we have such a bizarre (read no) system of producing players that very few come around — like one every decade. So, the humidity of Chennai is the main weapon that India have in their sparse arsenal. “We thought they would put us on grass. There is no (grass) court in Brazil and I was wondering how we would prepare for the tie,” said Brazil captain Joao Zwetsch. Of course, given the way Indian tennis works, nobody thought of making a fast hard court even though the clay-reared Brazilians hate the ball sliding off quick.
The first sign that the Gods may not be in favour came when the draw put the 479-placed Bopanna against world No 27 Thomaz Bellucci in the opener on Friday. That's not a smooth ride for India. Though Bellucci comes off an indifferent hard court season, with nothing better than a second round in five outings, he hits a real heavy ball. One is liable to be fooled by his pretty-boy looks but just look down to the calves and his meanness on court becomes apparent. Those legs have been moulded by years of going through the grind on clay. Now don't compare them to Bopanna’s; that’s plain unfair.
The Indian has not been playing too much of the one-on-one tennis for a couple of years now. He prefers the foursome kind. Given that very few people in the world care too much for watching doubles, except for Grand Slams, the matches have been reduced to a two-set affair with a 10-point tiebreaker if the teams take a set apiece. Whether Bopanna has the legs to last a five-setter is the major ask. His greatest weapon is that 'Bofors' serve that he fires with great regularity in doubles. But to do the same game after game minus the respite of a partner is the other question yawning between India and World Group. However, the Indian comes from the high of his maiden Grand Slam final at the US Open. Miracles do happen.
Devvarman has put more zip in his first serve. He's also trying to take the ball earlier instead of waiting for it to come to him ten feet behind the baseline. He is up against world rank 75 Ricardo Mello. A positive result in the first one can lend wings to his legs or else he will be shackled by increased pressure. Devvarman, shockingly enough, refuses to roll over and offer his belly for the higher-ranked players to tickle. He has proven time and again that he has the snarl to bite back and he bites hard. Let's see how it goes on Friday. In the meanwhile we could join Misra in wishing them looming dark clouds away.