DAVIS CUP Will India finally achieve the breakthrough in this tournament with a home advantage? KUNAL DIWAN
For something as bereft of financial gain as the Davis Cup to have held its significance in the greenback-loaded environment of professional tennis is in itself a million dollar achievement. Discreet bank accounts in Monaco and Cayman Islands count for naught, say old timers, when weighed alongside the experience of wearing one’s national colours, one’s fortunes mirroring those of the entire country.
In the Open era, there have been players both who have considered playing the Davis Cup a priority and a liability. Jimmy Connors shunned it, John McEnroe embraced it, Goran Ivanisevic took the competition to another level, and Roger Federer added to it his marquee credentials.
While there have been those who have regularly submitted themselves — when summoned — to their respective associations, the participation of some was influenced to an inordinate extent by the availability of others. Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi — the torchbearers of American tennis through the 1990s — decided to compete (or not) depending upon what the other guy was doing. What this implied was that neither was too keen on battling for peanuts in the Davis Cup when the other guy was honing himself for the next major.
This cup of nations, however, has meant much more to countries such as India and other dwellers of tennis’ unattractive underbelly who have relied on the teams’ tourney to provide some cheer in an otherwise bleak environment. Although it has never won the Davis Cup, India’s history in the event has been garnished with timeless, well-chronicled performances.
Tales abound of the exploits of Ramanathan Krishnan, his storied, five-set win over big-serving Brazilian Tomas Koch at Kolkata’s famed South Club, of the veiled danger in Ramesh Krishnan’s docile approach (and how playing for the country added spunk to a game that was as out of place in the modern circuit as a trout in a can of gasoline), of Leander Paes carrying forward that proud legacy to draw on something unquantifiable and rolling over opponents who’d have had him for breakfast on the regular Tour. Yes, indeed, India has had a decent run in the Davis Cup, thrice making it to the final, never winning it, but acquitting itself honourably in a team sport played seriously by a lot more than eight-odd colonially-burdened countries.
Breaking into the World Group after a painfully long span of 12 years, India lost to Russia earlier this year in Moscow where Michael Youzhny, playing at home, was instrumental for the cause of the Eastern European nation. Here in Chennai, as the host battles Brazil for another tilt at joining the top 16 countries, India too will look to play up its home advantage.
Its primary singles player, Somdev Devvarman, whose ranking hovers in the vicinity of 100, has made clear his preference for playing during the heat of the afternoon at a venue where he made the Chennai Open final in 2009. The advantage of climate will be supplemented by the presence of Paes, a Davis Cup veteran of 21 years and the holder of all possible Indian records in the tournament, who is known to conjure magic on court in the company of Mahesh Bhupathi.
But Brazil is no pushover. In Thomaz Bellucci it possesses a player good enough to make a thrust for the top 15 and in Ricardo Mello, someone who can spar with distinction on a suitable surface. That both are lefties compounds India’s problems, for dealing with southpaws and their peculiar left-handed trajectory can be problematic to the unaccustomed. The Tamil Nadu Tennis Association spent weeks identifying suitable left-handed hitting partners for the team, but in vain.
A possible chink in the host’s armour, Rohan Bopanna, largely unsuited to the singles format but thrust in the role for want of better options, will look for inspiration in his recent run to the U.S. Open doubles final.
However the script turns out, Chennai will once again be a proud host of this glorious competition, thanks to Devvarman’s insistence on hardcourts and heat.
- India first played in 1921.
- In 1966, Indian players reached the Davis Cup finals for the first time and had Ramanathan Krishnan, Premjit Lal, S. P. Misra and Jaidip Mukerjea as team members.
- India finished as runners-up three times in 1966, 1974 and 1987.
- In 1974, India refused to play South Africa in the final, due to the Government’s apartheid policies.
- In the 1974 Eastern Zone Final, India and Australia established a record for the most number of games in a tie: 327.
- The U.S. is the most successful country in the history of Davis Cup.
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