India will challenge 2012 and 2013 Davis Cup champions and top seeds Czech Republic for a place in the elite World Group, hoping that their players will capitalise on home conditions and the absence of world number six Tomas Berdych in the Play-off tie, beginning in New Delhi on Friday.
The fact that Berdych is missing from the rival line-up has prevented it from becoming a one-sided contest but the patchy form of Somdev Devvarman is still a cause for concern for the hosts. The results in the last few months of one of India's most hard-working players are far from encouraging. There were 11 instances when Devvarman failed to clear the first round and four times he did not go beyond the second round in the main draw matches, including the Challengers.
Lack of hard work has never been a problem for Devvarman but his defensive style of play, which he has stubbornly refused to change, is perhaps the bane of his game. That puts Yuki Bhambri, who is in decent touch and has acquired the status of the country's numero uno singles player, under a lot of pressure.
Bhambri had emerged India's hero in the tie against New Zealand where he won both his matches, including the deciding fifth rubber. Here too, a lot would depend on how the 23-year-old handles the pressure of playing against superior players. Bhambri is in red-hot form and is coming into the tie after winning the Shanghai Challenger title, which has seen his world ranking rise to 125.
Bhambri will open the tie for India by playing against Lukas Rosol before Devvarman takes on Jiri Vesley in Friday's second singles. "I would prefer playing in cooler conditions but I can play freely at 0-0," Bhambri said after the draw.
But Devvarman enjoys an unbeaten record on the slow DLTA courts. He has not lost a single match here since 2010, winning a Commonwealth Games gold and two Delhi Open titles. If he can continue his love-affair with the venue, he will do great service to the nation.
The venue, too, has been chosen by the players themselves, keeping in mind the slow nature of the conditions that suit the Indians. The ball comes slow and bounces on the centre court, which would mean that points won't finish fast. This is exactly what Devvarman loves.
But at the same time, the searing heat may trouble the Indians as well and keeping themselves cramps-free would be crucial. The temperature is likely to be around 35-36 degrees Celsius and the fitness of the players of both the sides will be tested.