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    Davis Cup: Bhupathi counts on grass, shorter format and Prajnesh’s form to upset higher-ranked Italy


    The advantage with Bhupathi is that he is more a friend than captain. He has played with the boys for years.

    The advantage with Bhupathi is that he is more a friend than captain. He has played with the boys for years.
    by Boria Majumdar

    “I am sure you have read reports which suggest I will get the boot soon after this tie is over,” said Mahesh Bhupathi with his trademark wry smile before going on to add, “Jokes apart this is our best chance to beat Italy. Grass is their least favoured surface and we have prepared the best we could have.”

    Davis Cup has never been about rankings. Had it been so, the Leander Paes script could never have been written. Despite the veteran not being a part of this tie, his achievements are there to inspire the Indians against the much higher-ranked Italians. In the recently released rankings, Marco Ceccinato is at 19 with Andreas Seppi at 37 and Marco Berettini at 53.

    “Even without Fabio Fognini (15), they have four players in the top 100 who are all here. But that’s where it gets interesting. Davis Cup is about nationalism, about playing in front of your own people and doing things that you have never done before,” says Bhupathi.

    Camped in Kolkata for a week now, the Indians have been sweating it out at the Gymkhana and subsequently at the South Club and have been given a surface, which is much to their liking.

    The other thing that should favour the Indians is the new format, which is being tried out for the first time. The format, which has come under much fire worldwide, finds a strong supporter in Bhupathi.

    “It should help us. When you are playing a higher ranked player, it is better to play him in three sets rather than five. It gives you a better opportunity to cause an upset,” says Bhupathi. “It is like T20 cricket. A good set means you are half way to winning the contest,” he adds.

    India has come up short at this stage of the Davis Cup four times in the last few years. Having lost to Serbia, Canada and other higher ranked teams, the elite group has continued to elude Bhupathi’s team adding to the pressure on the captain.

    While he continues to be cautiously optimistic about his team’s chances, he knows that a bad tie might cause things to nosedive. To counter this, and in a sense the biggest positive for India going into the tie is the recent form of Prajnesh Gunneswaran.

    On the cusp of breaking into the top 100, Prajnesh is coming off the best run he has ever had as a professional. Having made the main draw of the Australian open for the first time in his career, he is confident and physically in the best shape he has ever been.

    “What should also go in our favour is the left-right combination. Ram (Ramkumar Ramanathan) and Prajnesh are very different in their styles and I really don’t want to give any excuses for a bad result,” asserts Bhupathi.

    The advantage with Bhupathi is that he is more a friend than captain. He has played with the boys for years. “I watch all of their matches on live stream and we exchange notes on a regular basis. So it is not as if we are meeting only at times of Davis cup matches,” reminds Bhupathi.

    Bhupathi knows that a good result this weekend can give a real fillip to Indian tennis. Two of our players are on the verge of breaking into the top 100. “We need to back them up in every possible way. It is essential that the AITA (All India Tennis Association) and the entire ecosystem gets behind the players at this time of their career,” he says.

    “Look at what Gopi (Pullela Gopichand) has done for Indian badminton. He is the model we should follow. We need synergy across every level to create a robust ecosystem and a good result in this tie can be a fair start,” he concludes.
    (Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of
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