Leander Paes chase record as India take on New Zealand in Davis Cup encounter
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Leander Paes chase record as India take on New Zealand in Davis Cup encounter

India will be looking to continue their winning run against New Zealand in the Davis Cup when the two teams face each other in the Asia/Oceania Group 1 tie.

tennis Updated: Feb 02, 2017 19:56 IST
B Shrikant
B Shrikant
Hindustan Times, Pune
Leander Paes,Davis Cup,India vs New Zealand
Leander Paes during a practice session ahead of the India’s Davis Cup match against New Zealand.(PTI)

A decisive turnaround in India versus New Zealand Davis Cup head-to-head came about in 2002 at Wellington when Leander Paes guided India to a 4-1 victory in an Asia/Oceania semifinal tie. With Paes winning three rubbers -- two singles, and a doubles with Mahesh Bhupathi --- India defeated New Zealand after losing all the three previous encounters, in 1975, 76 and 78. Since the 2002 clash, India have not lost a Davis Cup match to New Zealand, winning all five encounters.

As the two teams gear up for their Asia/Oceania Group 1 tie, Paes is still in the thick of action and is likely to play a crucial role. The 43-year-old will step onto the court on Saturday in the all-important doubles clash against Michael Venus and Artem Sitak --- both ranked higher than him in ATP doubles rankings --- with new partner Vishnu Vardhan, who has come in as replacement for Saketh Myneni, who pulled out due to an injury to his right leg.

READ | Davis Cup, India vs New Zealand: Saketh Myneni out, Vishnu Vardhan to partner Paes

It is a crucial rubber for Paes as a win would ensure a record for most doubles wins in Davis Cup history for the tennis stalwart. He currently shares the record of 42 wins jointly with Nicola Pietrangeli of Italy.

For India, Yuki Bhambri will set the ball rolling against Finn Tearney in the opening singles, with Ramkumar Ramanathan --- India’s No. 1 in the absence of Myneni --- taking on Jose Statham in the second. Considering both Bhambri and Ramkumar enjoy a big ranking advantage over their rivals, India should be comfortably placed at the end of the day.

But as Paes himself said during the post-draw press conference, rankings and reputation do not matter in Davis Cup and there have been innumerable instances of underdogs hogging the limelight.

READ | Leander Paes has no plans to retire, but for how long will the star continue?

“We are looking forward to the match. The draw turned out well…Yuki going first and Ramkumar playing after that. We have a new player entry in doubles --- Saketh’s foot was still not very good last evening, so, we realised that we needed a replacement and, thankfully, we got a good one in Vishnu,” said India’s non-playing captain Anand Amritraj.

If things go as per rankings, India should be 2-1 up going into Sunday’s reverse singles hoping to clinch it when Ramkumar takes on Tearney, or, in the decider, with Bhambri playing Statham.

Paes was happy with the partner he had got, as he had played with Vishnu Vardhan in the London Olympics. He had been practicing with Myneni and had a good outing against Spain, and now has to team up with Vishnu, who last played Davis Cup in 2012 against New Zealand.

“I have always said that I would put my best foot forward for my country. I want to thank Vishnu as a fellow Davis Cupper who put his hand up at such a late call,” said Paes.

While the players try to adapt to the changed scenario, one just hopes Vishnu’s return augurs well for the team, as the last time they played New Zealand with him in the lineup, India blanked the Kiwis 5-0 in 2012.

First Published: Feb 02, 2017 17:47 IST