India beat South Korea comfortably to reach the Davis Cup World Group playoffs last weekend, but they face a huge task in qualifying for the elite stage of the competition as their next opponents are five-time champions Spain.
“There’s no doubt on how tough it’s going to be against Spain,” said India Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali on Tuesday. “I don’t know how to react now. On one hand we had a wonderful win against Korea and today we drew Spain for the September (16-18) tie,” Ali laughs.
Spain are a powerhouse when it comes to Davis Cup. Dominating over the last decade and a half, they’ve won five times (2000, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2011) and finished runner-up in 2003 and 2012. They beat Romania 4-1 last weekend to reach the playoffs. India and Spain have last played against each other in 1965 where the Indians lost 2-3 in the Inter-Zonal final. The overall head-to-head is 2-1 in Spain’s favour.
Traditionally, Spain are dominant on clay. The biggest example one can think of in recent times is Rafa Nadal’s dominance at Roland Garros. India have the right to choose a surface in the September home tie and clay is obviously out of the question. “We are still trying to figure out the surface. It’s currently a toss between hardcourts and grass. But given a choice, the first preference is definitely grass,” Ali says.
With world tennis focusing on hard courts now, most clubs and academies in India have shifted surfaces from clay and grass. “There are a few places where there is grass but we also have to keep in mind if the venue can host such a huge tie,” Ali adds. “Secondly, one also has to think if the grass courts will be ready in time for the tie because it’s going to be held just after the monsoons.”
With Calcutta South Club having hosted umpteen Davis Cup ties on grass, is Kolkata an option? “It would be ideal to host it there. I’m still waiting to talk to the president and we will see,” Ali adds.
Though South Korea fielded an inexperienced team in Chandigarh, India will have no such luck against Spain. With 12 singles players and five doubles specialists ranked within the top 100, India will have to field the best possible ream. The hosts currently have no singles players in the top 100 but have four in the same range in doubles. In Chandigarh, Saketh Myneni (No 152) and Ramkumar Ramanathan (No 214) led India’s charge in the absence of the country’s top player Yuki Bhambri (No 151) who is nursing an injury. Somdev Devvarman, too, has been unavailable for a while due to an injury. “Yuki still hasn’t started playing yet. We will talk to all the players soon. We will nominate the players but decide on the playing four closer to the tie,” Ali concludes.