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Indian Tennis team has advantage at CWG

With the controversies over the court and player payments behind them, the Indian team is looking bullish to give tennis a rousing welcome at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. Know the team members

sports Updated: Sep 09, 2010 00:14 IST
Deepti Patwardhan

With the controversies over the court and player payments behind them, the Indian team is looking bullish to give tennis a rousing welcome at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

Apart from having the obvious edge of playing in front of a home crowd, India is also the only solid team that is fielding a full-strength squad. And coaches Jaideep Mukerjea and Nandal Bal are understandably upbeat about the hosts’ prospects on the podium.

Of the five gold medals on offer in the sport, Mukerjea, former player and Davis Cup captain, believes, India are, “looking to win at least two gold medals. The third one will be a bonus,” he said.

Given the form of the players in recent months and the shrinking field, it won’t hurt for the team to be more ambitious. With Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi reuniting, India’s chances in the men’s doubles are as good as gold. Their successors —Somdev Devvarman and Rohan Bopanna—also seem to be coming into their own. While Devvarman has shown a steady rise in the singles, winning his first direct entry into a Grand Slam at the US Open this year, Bopanna has actually produced better results than Paes and Bhupathi on the doubles circuit recently. The 30-year-old, with his Pakistani partner Aisam Qureshi, has made it to the semi-final of the US Open doubles.

“Everyone is expecting Somdev to do exceedingly well in the singles, but Bopanna and him will also be the team to watch out for in the doubles,” said Bal. “We are looking at two medals, a gold and a bronze, or possibly a silver, in men’s doubles alone. Our preparations are good.”

India’s chances in the discipline seem to have doubled after South Africa, who has a formidable duo in Wesley Moodie and Jeff Coetzee, decided not to send a tennis team for the Games. Apart from the doubles team, the country could also have presented a challenge in singles with players like Kevin Anderson and Rik de Voest in their ranks.

But the South Africans have joined a list of high-profile withdrawals like Lleyton Hewitt from Australia, Andy Murray from Scotland and Marcos Baghdatis from Cyprus.

“Yes, we would have liked to win medals in a star-studded line-up, but we are not stopping anyone from coming. It’s their decision,” said Bal.

In the latest list available, the only players likely to compete for the medal in the men’s singles would be Peter Luczak of Australia (ranked 118) and the in-form Jamaican Dustin Brown (ranked 123), if he participates. Though Pakistan’s Qureshi has let doubles take priority, he will be a dangerous floater in singles too.

For Sania Mirza, a front-runner in the women’s draw, a medal could prove just the remedy for her ailing career. Set back by injuries and controversies, Sania, who won three medals at the Asian Games, will be looking to dazzle in the Indian jersey. She will also be partnering Paes in the mixed doubles, while Nirupama Sanjeev will team up with Bopanna. “As for now, our weakest link is the ladies doubles,” added Bal. “But our players have worked very hard, The reserves Nirupama (Sanjeev) looked good in the camp. There have been lots of question marks over her selection but she’s there because she is still one of the best we have and not because she was good four years ago.”

Despite that blip on paper, when tennis makes its debut at the Games, it will be advantage India.