Ready for the next challenge

The Indian team celebrates after the victory against Chinese Taipei.-Pics: R. RAGU

Once India clinched the tie on the second day, the Chinese Taipei team did not have the stomach for further fight and the players surrendered meekly, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

Indian tennis proved yet again that given the chance, it would prosper. It was not the best test at home against Chinese Taipei in Davis Cup, but there was a clear hint that this was the team for the future.

It all boils down to sound preparation in the prevailing conditions and the presence of an experienced captain who pushes the boys to their best performance. The Indian team, in full strength, trained well for a week at the Indore Tennis Club, getting used to the high bounce on the slow surface. Captain Anand Amritraj ensured harmony in the team and pepped up the boys including the leading player Somdev Devvarman whenever required.

“The captain gave a fantastic speech and it got us all fired up,” said Somdev, 29, after winning the required two games when his marathon match against Ti Chen had resumed at 7-7 in the fifth set on the second morning of the tie.

Somdev needed seven match points to sew up a 2-0 lead for India after having been in the driver’s seat at 5-3, 40-0 in the decider. His defensive style of play gives a lot of chances for gritty opponents to keep him engaged for long, irrespective of the difference in rankings. But Somdev was unwilling to accept it as a valid reason to have a closer scrutiny of his game and strategy.

Yuki Bhambri observed a few days before the tie that it was up to Somdev to step it up, as he had the experience to win two rubbers for India most of the time in the regional competition. Yuki, 21, who had a decent show in recent events — he made it to the quarterfinal of the Chennai Open ATP event and the doubles third round at the Australian Open — stroked with conviction to beat the former World No. 1 junior Tsung-Hua Yang, to give India a sound start.

There was a minor hitch as Yuki suffered a bout of cramps midway through the third set and was struggling to move and go up on his serve. He continued to stroke with ease and timing, whenever the ball was within his reach. Once he recovered from the cramps in the fourth set, Yuki outplayed Yang, who was fresh from making a Challenger final in Hawaii. All the travelling from Australia to America, followed by hopping flights back home on way to India had taken its toll on Yang, 22, who gave glimpses of his big game in patches.

With due respect to the good work by Yuki and Somdev, it had to be conceded that the best part of the tie was the doubles game of Rohan Bopanna and debutant Saketh Myneni. It was entertainment at its best as the Taipei team, Hsien-Yen Peng in particular, rose to the challenge to make it a spectacular fight.

Bopanna, ranked No. 3 in the world last year, showed what took him to the top level in doubles. He served, volleyed and hit some fine shots, flicking the half-volleys apart from driving robust groundstrokes with such assurance. Saketh, 26, who, in partnership with Karen Khachanov of Russia, had beaten Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi in the quarterfinals of the Chennai Open, more than matched Bopanna in some departments.

India's Rohan Bopanna (right) Saketh Myneni in action during the doubles match.-

“It is easy to play with someone who serves 25 to 30 kilometres faster than me,” said Bopanna, as he put things in perspective about the splendid role played by Saketh.

For a team that once had a fabulous pair like Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi — the duo had lost only two rubbers out of 27 in Davis Cup — Bopanna and Saketh assured that there would not be an alarming dip in quality.

Once the tie was clinched on the second day, the Taipei team did not have the stomach for further fight. The players surrendered meekly to Yuki and Saketh in the dead rubbers on the final day that spanned just about two hours in all.

For a depleted team, in the absence of its two leading players Yen-Hsun Lu and Jimmy Wang, who chose to focus on their professional career, it was difficult for Chinese Taipei to stay focused on the fight, particularly after having missed its chances.

The next challenge in the zone for India will be away against Korea in April. The rankings may not matter in Davis Cup and India may have never beaten Korea in Korea, but this young team should fancy its chances of at least making the World Group play-off.

With a bunch of players like Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, R. Ramkumar, Sriram Balaji and Sanam Singh, among others, knocking on the doors of selection for national duty, you can rest assured that the Indian team will keep improving in quality, to match world standards on a more regular basis.