Battle-hardened hosts, India are no pushovers

  • Sukhwant Basra, Hindustan Times, Bangalore
  • Updated: Sep 12, 2014 01:10 IST

The rankings say that Yuki Bhambri has a mountain to climb. He opens India’s campaign against Serbian Dusan Lajovic, who sits high at 61 on the list while our man is at 153. Now, on the face of it, it may be possible to dismiss India’s chances in the opener. However, strange things happen in Davis Cup, the primary demon to conquer being pressure.

Experience vs ranking

Lajovic has looked impressive in practice and looks good on paper. But the Serb has played five Davis Cup matches for his nation and has lost three of those. More crucially, his wins have been in dead rubbers with the pressure off since the fate of the ties had already been decided.

Perhaps, even more pertinent from the Indian point of view is the fact that of the 20 tournaments he played on the men’s circuit this year, 15 were on clay. Till the US Open, he had not turned out on a hard-court since March this year.

Meanwhile, Bhambri has been plagued by injuries this year and stayed off the court for the majority of the season. He played nine events with over a five-month
lay off between February and July-end.

Hard courts are his favoured surface and the high bounding ball at Bangalore will be to his liking. He has also soaked in the pressure of winning for his country in three live matches on this stage, billed as the World Cup of Tennis. He has more experience in the format with a healthy 8-1 record.

The organisers claim that the 7000-seater stadium has been sold out.

Of course, the initial attraction for spectators was the possibility of Novak Djokovic turning up. The late start in the afternoon will allow more followers of the sport to troop in after work. While Bhambri is unlikely to get the benefit of a full house playing as he is at three in the afternoon, he can be assured of vociferous support. The 22-year-old will need it.

Worrying bit

The worrying bit, however, as far as this writer could glean, was Bhambri’s indifferent form in practice on Thursday. The player looked listless and his game paled in comparison to practice partner Ramkumar Ramanathan. In fact, the 19-year-old was rampant, serving huge and making big shots with aplomb.

Bhambri didn’t seem to put his back into his serve and there was a band of blue kinesis tape on his abdomen. The player and team physios insisted that it was just a precautionary measure and that he was not nursing any kind of muscle ailment in the region.

One hopes that Bhambri rediscovers his verve while the pressure of playing in front of a hostile crowd dims the ferocity that the Serb player has shown, whacking balls on Bangalore courts till now.

It also remains to be seen if the Indian is at peak fitness after the long lay-off period and injury rehabilitation.

Advantage Somdev

The second encounter is likely to unfold under lights when India’s primary singles player Somdev Devvarman takes on Filipino Krajinovic. Here too, rankings favour Serbia with Krajinovic at 107 compared to Devvarman’s 144.

But one glance at the Davis Cup record shows that the man is a babe in terms of Davis Cup experience with just one singles encounter for his nation. He has also never played a live match for his country.

Not Easy

Devvarman, meanwhile, is a veteran of 19 singles outings and is a proven warrior in this format. The Tripura dynamo had downed the redoubtable Janko Tipsarevic when these two teams last played in March 2011. That wouldn’t be making the Serbs feel too comfortable facing up to the Indian with a huge heart for battle and the legs to back it up.

Devvarman has had a bad run of form earlier in the season but sprung back last week with a run to the finals of a Challenger in Shanghai. He may well be a handful for the visitors.

So, there you have it. The Serbs have better rankings while the Indians have far better experience in this format. Makes for a juicy tie or what?

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