Interactions with tennis players have started going the cricket way. While HT printed days ago that three of our star performers - Leander Paes, Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna - would opt out of the Asian Games, the players themselves were not comfortable taking questions on the issue.
So, before Wednesday's team press conference, captain Anand Amritraj began with the caveat that no questions on the Asian Games would be entertained. Stuff like this is usual at press conferences featuring cricketers, as the players seem keen to talk at length only on the brand they are promoting at that moment. They seldom discuss cricket.
It was kind of funny because the tennis players had already spoken at length about India's chances against Serbia and just how the high altitude (about 3000 feet) of Bangalore made for an interesting venue, and would give India the edge that home ties are all about. Perhaps, at that time they had not seen the Serbs serve - just about every member of the contingent in Bangalore seems to be sending down bombs. Anyway, the elephant in the room was the big question mark on the Asian Games.
The national federation, managed as it is by a sharp administrator who has learnt to play the players very well over the years, sent a release smack in the middle of the media interaction stating that India's brightest tennis stars need not turn up for the Games on account of their commitment to their careers on the tour. Suddenly, it was no longer a cricket-type press conference.
In this particular tie, it appears that home advantage won't really matter. The Serbs came in last Saturday and have been hard at work acclimatising. Then, the big guy in the sky that has sapped many a foreign challenge before won't be much of a factor. Matches are starting as late as three in the afternoon in order to attract a sizeable audience. Under lights, the sun won't matter. The humidity will still, though, and our boys will hope it is enough.
Then the whole shift from grass to hard courts has ensured that the heavily watered low-bounding courts which were crucial to our home wins earlier, don't come into play. The Serbs are loping around like gazelles and stepping into the ball to whack it hard. They'll be tough nuts to crack.
Perhaps, the most worrying bit is the indifferent form that two of the top singles players have shown in the recent past. It remains to be seen if Somdev Devvarman has got out of his slump and is on top of his game - the first impression did not convey that. It is also debatable if Yuki Bhambri has had enough matches since recovering from his injury a few weeks ago to make an impression at this level.
All in all, the strongest bit of challenge from the Indian side is in doubles with Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna teaming up. Paes, on his part, seems to refuse to age. When this writer met him after the training session, the man was continuing his core and ab routines in his room. He has lost the heft that had urged his midriff and has instead grown muscle around his shoulders. He appears hungrier and leaner than one has seen him for a few years.
Bopanna will be playing his first tie in front of his home crowd and that should be motivation enough to rock it. But that shines the light of promise on one out of five matches. One can only hope the singles guys have some magic potion and untapped reserves they can draw on or else this may well be a no-go situation.