Denis Shapovalov will carry a lot of weight for Canada in the tie. (Source: AP)
The Indian Davis Cup team hasn’t left much to luck this time. For the fourth time in as many years, the team has reached the World Group Playoffs, but on this occasion, the side is upbeat about its chances. A lot has to do with the fact that the opponent, Canada, is not of the same strength as the Serbians, the Czechs, and the Rafael Nadal led-Spaniards India has faced before. Also crucial is that the Indian singles players, Ramkumar Ramanathan and Yuki Bhambri, have recently struck a good run of form.
“They have both played well this summer so they are feeling good and hitting the ball well,” says captain Mahesh Bhupathi. “It gives them the confidence they need to believe they have a chance to beat anyone they play against.”
Ramkumar is the highest-ranked singles player in the squad, that also includes Bhambri, Rohan Bopanna and Saketh Myneni, along with reserves Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Purav Raja. After a dismal start to the year in which he crashed out early in the Chennai Open and failed to make the cut for the season’s first Grand Slam in Australia, Ramkumar made a strong comeback, upsetting world no 7 Dominic Thiem at the Antalya Open in June. He then went on to stretch 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis to three sets in the next round.
Just last month, the big-serving right-hander was granted his first ever main draw appearance at an ATP Masters 1000 event, when he was given a lucky loser entry. But he proved his worth by beating American Christopher Eubanks in the first round before losing to world no 58 Jared Donaldson in three sets. The run has seen Ramkumar reach his career-high 154 rank. Bhambri has made a successful recovery from the tennis elbow problem that had sidelined him for over six months last year. The 25-year-old, who has twice broken into the top 100, currently sits at 157 after starting the year ranked 474. In July, the Delhi lad made a strong run at the Citi Open, an ATP 500 event, where he reached the quarterfinals after starting from the qualifying rounds – beating the then world no 22 Gael Monfils on the way.
Canada will host India at the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton without Milos Raonic. A wrist injury forced the world no 11 to miss the US Open and the Davis Cup tie – he’s been replaced by debutant Brayden Schnur. Instead, the team will be headed by teenage sensation Denis Shapovalov. The 18-year-old has been on a strong run of form himself, having won two Challengers so far this year.
The Canadian has also made a mark on the ATP circuit, beating Juan Martin del Potro and Nadal en route to a semi-final appearance at the Montreal Masters. He followed that up by starting the US Open in the qualifiers and progressing to the fourth round.
“I’m sure they (Canada) have a lot of expectations from him,” says Bhupathi. “Which is good for us as the pressure will clearly be on him to deliver points for his team.”
With both sides posing strong singles contentions, the doubles rubber may become the crucial match. The Indian pair will be led by Bopanna, who won his maiden Grand Slam in the French Open mixed doubles, with Myneni his likely partner. The latter hasn’t had much playing time this season, having featured in only five Challenger matches towards the end of July since returning from a lengthy injury layoff. “The training camp had a big impact on him and helped him find his rhythm,” says team coach Zeeshan Ali. “He’s hitting the ball and moving well. He’s definitely a much better player now.”Advertisement
The duo is expected to come up against the team of Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil – two former top 10 players in doubles. The 45-year-old Nestor though has been struggling for form this season, while Pospisil has focused more on singles over the past few years, making the rubber an open affair. “In Davis Cup, the doubles rubber can always tilt the scale and it should be no different this time,” says Bhupathi. “But our focus is to get one point on day one.”Also ReadNovak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz set to meet again in group stage of Dav...Watch: Jannik Sinner wins a 46-shot rally against Tommy PaulDoes Steffi Graf ever age? Husband Andre Agassi has the perfect reply'Never been friends, never been close to Roger Federer': Novak Djokovic s...
The teams will be finalised on Thursday, but Ramkumar and Bhambri are sure starters for the Indians. With the pair putting up a strong challenge, singles has become the team’s strong point. It had won the tie for India against New Zealand in the first round zonal in February, and set up the win against Uzbekistan in April. Against Canada though, the Bhupathi-led team will face a bigger test, yet not one that is beyond them. “Our job is to focus on our strengths and make sure we can execute consistently for three days. And if we do, I feel we have a shot.”
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