A Davis Cup tie is never easy. To add to the pressure, it’s a World Group play-off. It’s how the India team coach Zeeshan Ali puts it, "We would rather play a top team like the Czech Republic at home than play them at their home."
The fact that India would be playing the top seeds and thrice champions at home had been announced earlier but on Wednesday the venue — New Delhi — was formally selected at a meeting.
"I’m glad that the AITA officials agreed to listen to the request of the players and chose Delhi as the venue," said Zeeshan when contacted by HT.
The tie will be held from September 18-20 at the RK Khanna Tennis Stadium. Though Pune had been shortlisted as a possible venue, the players were against it. "The higher altitude would have suited the Czechs more. For the players, Delhi was always the first choice."
It should be noted that Somdev Devvarman, the top-ranked Indian at world number 147, is yet to lose a match on the slow hardcourts at the stadium, having won the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold and two ATP Challenger titles there.
Last year, India had narrowly lost the play-off tie to Serbia in the deciding fifth rubber. They defeated New Zealand 3-2 at Christchurch in the Asia/Oceania Zone Group I clash earlier this month to reach the play-off stage.
Crowed champions in 2012 and 2013, the Czechs boast of three players in the top 60, with Tomas Berdych currently ranked number 6 in the world. "They still haven’t announced their team but we will surely expect Berdych to show up for the tie, which is very important for both the teams," added Zeeshan.
While the Czech team is trying to keep its streak of not falling out of the World Group since 2006, India will be fighting to enter the elite group since their last appearance in 2011. “They have Jiri Vesely (No 45) and Lukas Rosol (No 56) and, of course, the experience of Radek Stepanek."
Zeeshan’s father Akhtar Ali, a former Davis Cup coach, however, feels that if Berdych shows up, it will spell trouble for the hosts. "If Berdych doesn’t come then India will have a 50-50 chance but if the tall Czech turns up, it will prove to be very tough," he predicted.
With Yuki Bhambri (No 151) and Saketh Myneni (199) playing well in recent tournaments, it remains to be seen if India manage to upstage a higher-ranked team at home.