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Indian rookies set for giant task in Uzbekistan

Youngster Sanam takes on Istomin in opener, Yuki up against Dustov next. Sukhwant Basra reports. Weekend line-up

sports Updated: Apr 06, 2012 02:38 IST
rumblings of change,Sukhwant Basra,Namangan

The mettle of a man is forged on the anvil of adversity.

Yuki Bhambri and Sanam Singh are set to make their debut in live Davis Cup matches on Friday and nobody in the team can recall when India last put in two rookies on the first day.

“There are two crucial components: mental strength and the maturity to nurse one’s physical reserves over five sets,” says Cup veteran Leander Paes who’s turned up for his 48th tie.

“Each match has it’s unique ebb and flow. The pressure is always there – whether its your first match for India or the nth – but what counts is just how deep the player is able to dig into his reserves and lift his game playing for the country. I think it’s a wise call by the selectors to look to nurture our singles options for the future.”

Perhaps it would have been wiser to rest one of the doubles maestros (Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi) earlier? "That’s a good point and I really don’t know the answer to that. After all, that berth has been there for the taking for a long while but then the player has to earn it."

The last time that Yuki Bhambri played a tournament on clay was about a year ago while Sanam has not been on the surface since his 2006 junior French Open outing. For the last three weeks, both have been slugging it out in Delhi in preparation for the tie putting on hold their quest for earning points at Future and Challenger events.

“I have been putting in two, and sometimes even three sessions in order to be ready for the surface. We have prepared well,” says Yuki.

Though only 19, the Delhi player already knows that at this level the legs will make or break him. Then, he did look a little winded when his match deep into the second set at the Chennai Open early this year.

Physical aspect
“Look, fitness is not a sudden gain. It’s not like tweaking a stroke – that can come together in one good session. This is more of a constant grind. On my part I have begun a lot more training during tournaments and the results will show in time. I already feel stronger.”

The effort shows in the youngster’s game. He hits a heavier ball now loaded with more spin — crucial to ensure consistency while looking to hurt the opponent on this surface. His serve has also improved.

However, at six foot five inches (four more than Yuki’s 6’1”), not only does his 26-year-old adversary Farrukh Dustov have a bigger serve but also has the characteristic round house forehand that defines the quintessential clay-courter. The Uzbekistan number two has been temperamental in the past and the Indian camp hopes that Yuki will be able to surprise him enough to get under his skin.

For Sanam, things are tougher. Not only does Denis Istomin come in fresh from wins over the likes of Andy Roddick, he is also a steady player who has clawed his way into the top-50 astride consistent performances.

“The last top-100 player I played against was Kevin Kim and I ran him close losing in the third set tiebreak. The level is tougher but I feel I have the game to compete. It’s hard to gain a good ranking quickly but these numbers don’t always reflect a player’s ability over another,” Sanam sounds an optimistic note. Even if the man from Chandigarh stretches his opponent enough to ward him off from playing in the doubles on Saturday, he would have done his bit for the team.

“You step on that court to win, the rest is not what I need to think about,” is Sanam’s honest response to that bit of strategy.

Eye on London
A tired Paes joined the team on Thursday looking a bit drained from his five-hour taxi ride from Tashkent. He met each member of the team with great warmth although his doubles partner for this tie, Rohan Bopanna, got a decidedly half-hearted hug.

The Indian federation knows that there is a public relations disaster waiting to happen no matter what combo it fields for the London Olympics. The Paes-Bopanna combo is what they are presently looking at and just how well the two gel as a team in this tie will also weigh on that particular selection.

But the Paes-Bhupathi soap opera aside, this tie is more about the future of the Indian Davis Cup squad. There could hardly be a sterner test of character than the one that’s been laid out for Yuki and Sanam. They can either embrace the pressure or quail in the face of adversity. But then, this is what they have dreamed about since the time they were little kids running around tennis courts with kit bags that dwarfed them. It’s time for some heavy metal; they can hardly hope to win playing unplugged.

First Published: Apr 06, 2012 01:02 IST