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Prakash hurt by exclusion

India's top-ranked player, left out of the opening singles, intrigued by Paes' insistence that he's unwell, reports Deepika Sharma.
By Deepika Sharma | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 07, 2008 10:38 PM IST

There was a sense of disbelief, disappointment and frustration in the eyes of Prakash Amritraj, India's top singles player and the only man in the team to have beaten both rivals belonging to the side India will face this weekend.

Amritraj might have not come out in the open and expressed his feelings at not being picked to play the singles against Uzbekistan in the Davis Cup Asia-Oceania zone tie, but the hurt was evident in his voice.

On Thursday, India captain Leander Paes chose the lower-ranked but promising Somdev Dev Varman over Amritraj, India's highest-ranked player in singles, for the opening match against Uzbekistan's top player and world No. 185 Denis Istomin.

Dev Varman, 23, is ranked 781. The 24-year-old Amritraj is No. 265. That said, there is a buzz about Dev Varman in Indian tennis ever since the University of Virginia student became the first Indian to win the NCAA Championship last year. He is also known for his fitness. Paes has obviously picked him with the future in mind.

Also, if not now, when would he get his chance? "I have followed Somdev's matches in the US the last six months," Paes said. "He is a bright prospect. There is an x-factor about him and he is physically strong."

So, on the one hand, Amritraj has reason to feel aggrieved. On the other, he simply has had to make way for a strong player.

What was a bit strange, however, was Paes insisting that Amritraj was "recovering" and a "player who needed nutrition" when Amritraj emphasised he was fine.

"I am 100 per cent fit, I am not recovering from anything," Amritraj said after practice on Thursday. "I skipped practice on Monday due to a stomach upset but it was not serious. I did not see a doctor. I had informed Leander on Wednesday evening that I was fit and ready to play.

"Everyone has seen me practice and how much I have given," he added.

Asked how disappointed he was, Amritraj, after a short silence, said: "If I will be sitting on the bench, watching my team lose, I will be extremely disappointed."

Amritraj is the only player in the team to have played, and beaten, both the Uzbek players: Istomin and Farrukh Dustov. Moreover, he beat both on grass, which is the surface of the current tie. Amritraj scored over the two in India's 5-0 whitewash of Uzbekistan in Jaipur in 2005.

"I indeed have a great record against them. I won't say I did not wish to do it again," Amritraj said.

He also has a good Davis Cup record on grass. All the five matches that he has won in the competition have been on grass. It must also be noted that Amritraj put in a solid performance the last time that he played Davis Cup, beating Pakistan's Aqueel Khan and losing a four-setter to the formidable Aisam Qureshi in Mumbai in 2006.

Asked why he thought Paes reckoned he wasn't fully fit, Amritraj said: "I don't have any clue. As I said I had informed him that I'm fit.

"Everyone has come up to me and said, 'Prakash, we will miss seeing you play on the opening day'," he added.

Amritraj, however, would be playing the doubles with Mahesh Bhupathi and might also play the reverse singles on Sunday.

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