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Indian hopes crash on clay

sports Updated: Apr 07, 2012 01:41 IST
Sukhwant Basra
Sukhwant Basra
Hindustan Times
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Uzbekistan brushed aside India's singles challengers on Friday to register a thumping 2-0 lead in the Davis Cup Asia-Oceania Group I face-off. Yuki Bhambri lost 4-6, 4-6, 3-6 to Farrukh Dustov in an hour and 54 minutes while Sanam Singh stretched his encounter against Denis Istomin by two more minutes before caving in 3-6, 2-6, 4-6.

For over a decade your correspondent has been searching for the next set of legs that will anchor India's Cup fortunes. But after Leander Paes, till now, only Somdev Devvarman has shown the off-court resolve necessary to have the kind of explosive strength essential to prevail at this level of tennis.

Leg strength
Let me explain in simple terms for readers who are wondering what this constant harping about legs is all about. If you have the leg strength you get in position quicker and set up your stroke all the better instead of flailing your racquet at the ball as it zips past. Then, men's tennis on clay demands a heavy spun ball that whirls in deep and does not allow the opponent to dictate the pace.

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To be able to do that over the span of two odd hours, you have to keep bending low, get under the ball and whip it back; recover and then be poised to leap at the next ask that the opponent throws your way. It's a wearying process. It's mentally sapping and physically draining.

On the face of it, we have enough gyms back home. So, what the big deal? Can't our players just spend enough time working out?

Lack trainers
The fact is that they do. But, India does not have the kind of trainers that are required to mould a pair of legs into world-beating limbs that can pound away with piston-like precision over hours.

This crucial lacunae in our training system has come to haunt our Davis Cup dreams.

To look at the positives, Yuki has shown tremendous improvement. To be fair to him, he is a lanky 19-year-old and his frame is yet to fill out. More importantly he has the stroke repertoire to play at this level.

There are a few rough edges when it comes to finishing a point but that could purely be on account of a lack of experience at this level.

But after the first set which lasted 45 minutes - a set where he seemed to be in command many a time - he just did not have the requisite physical reserves. The road to tennis stardom is going to be long haul for this youngster but something about his cockiness and attitude tells this writer that he just might be the next big one.

After all you cant be a goody-goody guy to win in the cut-throat world of men's tennis.

Sanam actually has the better set of legs courtesy his stint at the University of Virginia's tennis programme. However, he was no match for Istomin who seemed to win the crucial points at will.

The serve is the most dominant stroke now as players just don't let their service games slip away. Compared to the bazookas that the Uzbekistan players unleashed, our lot seemed to have pea-shooters.

Doubles high
Saturday will see Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna take on the Uzbekistan team that's slated to figure both Istomin and Dustov.

The Uzbeks can change their team till an hour before the match as, despite the obvious prowess on display, even they would be wary of fielding their best singles players against a team that figures two of the world's top-10 doubles players (Paes: 7, Bopanna: 8).

The only time the two Indians have played together before was at the Davis Cup tie against Kazakhstan in Almaty way back in 2007. Of course, their pairing will be watched with interest as it is one of the combinations that the national federation is considering for the Olympics.

That bit of spice apart, this tie has definitely gone quite bland for India.