India are pinning hopes on Prajnesh CSC grass courts could upset Italians

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 01 Feb 2019 11:05:58




India would rely heavily on in-form Prajnesh Gunneswaran and favourable home conditions to upset former champions Italy in their bid to qualify for the inaugural Davis Cup Group Finals when the two teams clash in the Qualifiers starting here from Friday.

At the official draw on the eve of their matches, Italy pulled a surprise on India when they left out their top-ranked Marco Cecchinato out of the singles draw, naming veteran Andreas Seppi and Matteo Berrettini, who will make Davis Cup debut at 22 years.

Ramkumar Ramanathan will take on world number 37 Seppi, while Berrettini is seen to lend the X-factor to the side as he will face India number one Prajnesh in the opening day’s rubbers.

Cecchinato has been named in the doubles and he would partner the 2015 Australian Open doubles winner Simone Bolelli against India’s formidable duo of Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan.

The rejigged Davis Cup enters a new era with 12 qualifiers across the globe on the road to Madrid Finals in November.
Against a team which leads 4-1 on head-to-head record, India have returned to their favourite Calcutta South Club (CSC) grass courts after 16 years.

The venue boasts of an impressive 8-2 win-loss record for India, including the solitary victory over Italy in the 1985’s World Group 1st Round. “It’s grass, not clay! Maybe next time, we will play on clay against India. We have nothing to complain,” said 1976 Davis Cup winner Corrado Barazzutti, the non-playing captain of Italy.

Another boost for India is the shortened format. The popular ‘home-away’ format has been retained for the qualifiers and the ties now will be held in two days with two singles on Friday and a doubles plus two return singles on Saturday.

Matches will now be played over best-of-three sets in place of gruelling best of five, adding to the unpredictability factor and Italy, despite having three of their five players inside top-50, cannot breathe easy.

India’s non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi has already said there is no room for excuses for the home side and would be banking on their top-ranked singles player Prajnesh (102) to get the hosts off the block.

The big-serving southpaw, who is fresh from making his Grand Slam debut at the Australian Open, achieved one of the best wins of his career on grass when he shocked Canada’s Denis Shapovalov, the current world number 25.

And it’s no surprise that Bhupathi will heavily bank on Prajnesh in singles while the most-experienced Bopanna will look to carry on his fine momentum with comeback man Divij in doubles. The duo won the Tata Maharashtra Open earlier this month.

With the hosts needing to win at least three rubbers to secure a place in the finals, Prajnesh will play a key role, while the doubles will be equally crucial as has been the case historically for India.

India lost 0-4 to Serbia in their World Group play-off clash in Kraljevo and the upcoming tie will be a litmus test for non-playing captain Bhupathi with reports indicating that his contract may not be renewed.

Senior players back Bhupathi’s extension



Senior players Rohan Bopanna and Prajnesh Gunneswaran Thursday backed an extension for non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi, whose contract renewal hinges on the team’s performance on the Davis Cup tie against Italy starting Friday.

Bhupathi had replaced Anand Amritraj as captain in April 2017 and his term will come to an end with the Italy tie. Senior AITA official had told PTI that parent body is unlikely to give Bhupathi an extension.

However his one-time doubles partner Bopanna spoke glowingly about what Bhupathi brought to the table. “He brings in a lot more communication with the players not only just during the Davis Cup tie but throughout the entire year. That makes the big difference,” Bopanna said.

“Even though you don’t meet him so often but the communication you constantly have brings in a bigger camaraderie when you come into the Davis Cup tie.
“That really helps and you know feel special with for the players you know when they come on the time great captain,” Bopanna added.

Bopanna, added: “No matter which tournament, I played, wherever it was, he always gave that advice which was required and for a player to grow,”

“I think that comes from within him as a player. I don’t think he needs to go out there to wanting to really do it. The minute he sees any one of us play and if sees there’s something we can improve and change, it just comes naturally to him,” Bopanna added.

“That’s the beauty of a player. It’s great to have him as a captain for us to get better and become better tennis players,” he said firmly backing his captain.

Under Bhupathi, the team twice reached the World Group Play-off stage, the maximum where it could go with the current set of players, according to the experts.

India lost to Canada (September 2017) and Serbia (September 2018) in away World Group play-off ties. Apart from Uzbekistan at home, the Indian team also beat China in an away tie in April 2018.

Bhupathi had pulled a masterstroke when he brought in an inexperienced Gunneswaran ahead in must-win rubber against China ahead of Sumit Nagal in the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Group I rubber last year.

The southpaw defeated reigning junior US Open champion Wu Yibing 6-4, 6-2 to script a 3-2 victory from being 0-2.
Prajnesh is currently the number one among India’s singles players and he too wants Bhupathi to continue.
“He’s an invaluable addition to the team. The fact is he’s played at a very high level for a long time and all of us are better off taking his advice,” Prajnesh, who is on a career high rank of 102, said.

“He’s definitely has won many Davis Cup matches under high pressure and he knows how to help us deal with all the things that come with Davis Cup. I’m very happy that he’s here with us.”

India number two Ramkumar said all the members of the team have a lot of respect for him and that’s the very important thing out of all. Having him sitting by our side, puts any team under a lot of pressure. It’s good to have him.”

Indian doubles player Divij Sharan is set to make a comeback for the first time since 2012 and he said: “Obviously, we don’t get to spend that much time with him as we’re traveling 30-35 weeks.

“But he very closely follows all our matches. I always hear from him. He watches them online. It’s great to have him by our side and be there on court by our side,” he concluded.