Bengaluru: For years the question that followed Indian Davis Cup team was ‘who will play in the two singles rubber?’ The answer to that for almost a decade, and specially since the turn of the millennium, was Somdev Devvarman, who admirably held up one end of that load. And did so with panache.
There wasn’t a great deal of choice then for a country, which has never really hit the heights, whose backbone was the doubles team. It had to be so. It was expected to be so.
What transpired during the opening week of Mahesh Bhupathi’s reign as the non playing captain of the Davis Cup team has now shed the light on how things will be. India will be following the world trend of taking three singles players and one doubles man.
It may have been an option before under the previous regiment, but it’s the norm now. The landscape is changing and Darwin’s theory hold just as good on the tennis court as it does in evolution. The old has to give way for the new.
And as attached as we are to the romance of nostalgia, it seldom transpires onto the real world. “Obviously coming here with so many different variables and factors to deal with, to win the tie in two days...definitely thrilled about getting an opportunity to get back into the World Group,” stated Bhupathi after winning his debut tie against Uzbekistan 4-1 on Sunday.
Ramkumar Ramanathan defeated Sanjar Fayziev 6-3, 6-2 before Uzbekistan scored their lone point of the tie in the last rubber when Temur Ismailov defeated Prajnesh Gunneswaran 7-5, 6-3.
“I am extremely hopeful of this team. I am a big believer that we don’t necessarily require a doubles specialist in the team unless the specialist is playing at a level that I think will make a difference to the tie,” he added.
As far a victories go, it was an emphatic one. Made even more so when one takes into account it was a largely second string side that was rolled out against an admittedly Denis Istomin-less Uzbekistan.
What bodes well for the 42-year-old Bhupathi is the depth and options he has in terms of singles players at the moment with six players, with an average age of 24-plus available for selection. Add to that the fact that Saketh Myneni and N Sriram Balaji, who was crucial to his side this weekend, can pull double duty by playing both format of the game, the permutations are only increased.
“I’m encouraging all these guys to play doubles constantly,” stressed Bhupathi. “I spoke to Bala this morning and I told him you have to play more doubles on the Challenger circuit or wherever he can. It will help their games, their net games. Obviously it gives me comfort that I can throw any of them on a Saturday.”
Leading the vanguard
To say Bhupathi is leading the vanguard of this change in India could be stretching things a bit too far. But he certainly is right up there. And with horns blaring.
With renewed focus on fitness, he has no misconceptions about the gravity of the task ahead. “There are a lot of small things they need to do. We are going to play oppositions of a different level in the next game and there is no room for lapses or unforced errors. We don’t get many chances at the World Group level so they are going to have to tighten up their game,” he revealed.
“We had a team meeting today and they know that their spot in the next tie, they can’t take it for granted. Hopefully we will have a full force with Yuki (Bhambri), Saketh and Sumit (Nagal) all back. I’m sure they will do what they have to do to make the team again,” he opined....