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Thursday, Nov 14, 2019

In Davis Cup rankings don’t really matter: Zeeshan Ali

India host Italy here in a qualifier on the grass courts of the Calcutta South Club courts on February 1 and 2. Italy have a 4-1 head-to-head record but India won the last time they played in Kolkata, in 1985.

tennis Updated: Jan 24, 2019 21:59 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Kolkata
File picture of Zeeshan Ali
File picture of Zeeshan Ali(PTI)
         

Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali drew on history to point out that there is more than one precedent in India going into a tie as the underdogs but emerging winners.

“If you compare the two teams, they are a far better team on paper. India have always been underdogs in the World Group. But we have reached the finals twice and played the semi-finals once. So, in Davis Cup rankings don’t really matter,” said Ali, on the sidelines of the preparatory camp at the Calcutta Gymkhana Club on Thursday.

Ali was referring to India playing the final in 1974 and 1987 and the penultimate round in 1993.

No one in the Italy squad has played the Davis Cup on grass. Neither has India’s top-ranked player Prajnesh Gunneswaran nor Divij Sharan who is likely to partner Rohan Bopanna in the doubles. Ramkumar Ramanathan, India’s second-highest ranked player, has played once as has Saketh Myneni. At seven rubbers, doubles specialist Rohan Bopanna has the maximum experience of grass among both teams.

At world No. 18 Marco Cecchinato is Italy’s top player whose only Davis Cup rubber was on clay. At world No. 35, Andreas Seppi is their second-highest ranked player. With three in the top 60, all but one in the Italy squad are ranked above the Indian quintet.

India host Italy here in a qualifier on the grass courts of the Calcutta South Club courts on February 1 and 2. Italy have a 4-1 head-to-head record but India won the last time they played in Kolkata, in 1985. The India squad is camping here from January 23.

Ali, 49, said that even though Indians haven’t played on grass for about six months, they could draw on Ramkumar Ramanathan’s final appearance in Newport (Hall Of Fame Open) in July. The idea of coming here early was to get used to the surface.

“I can already see a difference in how they were hitting yesterday and today. All the players believe they have a very good chance to win the tie,” said Ali, a former national champion who played the Davis Cup from 1987-1994 but never one in Kolkata the city where he grew up.

That Gunneswaran won a live fifth rubber, against China in Tianjin last year, too should help, said Ali.

“I think that was a changing point in his career. That made him believe that he could play in tough conditions. He is 28 (he turned 29 last November) and in a normal scenario this would have been more towards the later stage of his career. But this is when he has bloomed,” said Ali.

Gunneswaran is ranked 109. He started 2018 as world No. 243 and ended it as No. 104. In between, Gunneswaran won two ATP Challenger titles and played the final of two more. He also won men’s singles bronze at the Jakarta Asian Games.