“This is the draw we wanted,” said a quietly confident Indian captain, SP Misra after the draw ceremony of the Davis Cup World Group play-off tie against South Africa, which begins in Johannesburg from Friday.
The Indian team is confident yet quite aware of the dangers the South African team poses and were relieved once the draw was out, as their No. 1 player Somdev Devvarman will have the opportunity to put India one up and put the pressure on the hosts. He faces Izak Van der Merwe in the opening singles.
“I like playing first,” said Somdev. “The last tie I played first too and we won. I am hoping for the same result this time also.”
Somdev goes into this match as the favourite, having beaten Izak four weeks ago in an ATP Challenger in California, USA. But Friday is another day, with playing conditions more conducive for the tall South African and his serve and volley style.
It’s going to be a battle of contrasting styles, in which Somdev should come up tops.
A win for Somdev will ease a lot of pressure off Rohan, and put it squarely on South Africa’s top player Rik De Voest. Bopanna has the big weapons to hurt any opponent in these conditions and a lot will depend on how well he executes his game against De Voest.
De Voest on the other hand is an extremely wily customer, quick around the court, who changes the pace of his shots quite intelligently and will trouble Rohan with his subtle changes.
The South African captain didn’t look perturbed on the outside after the draw, but surely this is not the draw he was hoping for. In ties that are this close to call, you always want to get the first match under your belt to put the pressure on the opponents. “We have been on an 11-0 run and every time our No.2 player has played first, so we are hoping this would be win No.12 for us,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mahesh Bhupathi joined the Indian team on Thursday morning and almost immediately hit the practise courts.
“SA are the favourites for this tie as they are playing at home so the pressure is on them to win,” said the battle-hardened Davis Cupper, who knows how to play these mind games too well.
So the stage is all set for what promises to be a real humdinger of a tie and the team which executes their game plan better will come on top come Sunday and book its place in the World Group for next year.
(The writer is a former India Davis Cup player)