When Mahesh Bhupathi officially begins his stint with the Indian Davis Cup team as its non-playing captain, for the Asia/Oceania Zone tie against Uzbekistan, he will want to start his journey on a winning note. And, India’s key to success against the visitors will lie in a strong doubles pair.
Keeping that in mind, doubles specialist Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna have been included in the six-member squad. The All India Tennis Association (AITA) secretary-general Hironmoy Chatterjee said, “Both Bopanna and Paes are top-ranked players. They have given their consent to play for the country. Since they are ready to play as a team, we have included them.”
Chatterjee didn’t elaborate on what the key factor was that had brought the duo together, but hinted that they might have buried the hatchet. “Without a good doubles pair it wouldn’t be possible for India to make an impact in the crucial tie. We don’t stand much chance in singles, but if we are good in doubles, the situation could change in our favour,” he said.
Post the announcement of the Davis Cup squad that will be representing India, captain of the Indian Davis Cup team Mahesh Bhupathi said, “With the current roster of available players for the Davis Cup Tie, I am confident that this is the strongest squad for the tie. My decision on the final competing team for the weekend will be based on their performances over the next three weeks and their fitness levels during the week of the tie.”
Bhupathi, who will be captaining his first Davis Cup tie, concluded with a quick note on his appreciation of being picked as the Davis Cup Captain, saying, “I look forward to a fruitful term as captain of the Davis Cup Team, and count-on strong support from the boys and the AITA.”
It’s no secret that Bopanna and Paes have refused to pair together in the recent past; the infighting reached its climax during the Rio Olympic Games last year.
The AITA believes that’s history.
According to Chatterjee, the AITA selection committee --- of which he is the ex-officio member --- had a detailed discussion with Bhupathi on team composition and he agreed. “The six players were selected to give the captain and the coach more options to pick the final four-member team.”
The team shall be pruned to four 10 days before the competition. The AITA official also made it clear that age was just a number and the federation didn’t have any rule to exclude a player on the basis of age. “How can the federation deprive anyone from playing for the country if he is fit,” said Chatterjee with reference to Paes who is 43-years-old.
Fitness test mandatory
Bhupathi has made fitness test mandatory for every player. The team shall be pruned after the fitness test, to be held in Mumbai. Team coach Zeeshan Ali said that any player who is unfit to play shall not be considered. “The test is to ensure that no player is carrying an injury. But if someone gets injured in the camp or during the match, it’s a different matter,” he said, adding Saketh Myneni wasn’t included in the team as he was unfit.
To build the team for the future, the AITA has also included two juniors --- Dhruv Sunish and Nitin Kumar Sinha --- in the practice squad. “It will give them the opportunity to train with the seniors and get familiar with the Davis Cup atmosphere,” said Ali.
Besides Bopanna and Paes, the other players are Ramkumar Ramanathan, Yuki Bhambri, Prajnesh Gunneswaran and N Sriram Balaji. The team will also have a short camp at Bengaluru before the competition.