Yuki the hero in great comeback

Yuki Bhambri... superb show against the Kiwis.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Rohan Bopanna, who has been a key member of the Indian Davis Cup team over the years, raved about Yuki Bhambri in the tie against the Kiwis, and declared that it was the best he had seen him play, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

It is hard to be shrewd while making a prediction before a Davis Cup tie. Over the years, we have always been reminded that rankings go out of the window when two countries, rather than players, set out to assert their supremacy. However, we continue to get carried away by the relative strength of the numbers.

But wise men, who have gone through it all, always look at the lurking dangers and see to it that the feet of their players are firmly grounded, to ensure a strong performance. That was precisely what India captain Anand Amritraj and coach Zeeshan Ali did while preparing for the challenge of tackling New Zealand in its home conditions that were freezing cold in Christchurch.

On paper, the Kiwis looked no match for India. For, their main singles players, Jose Statham and Michael Venus, were ranked 341 and 583 respectively. Actually, they were not a patch on the Indian team, as Somdev Devvarman (148) and Yuki Bhambri (151) were pretty sharp. Somdev was also in great touch, having won his second Challenger title of the season, in the U.S., before flying into New Zealand.

As it turned out, the Kiwis, who had beaten a strong Chinese team in the earlier round of the Asia-Oceania zone, were ready to rock the Indian boat. Once Venus pinned Somdev on the mat, with a 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 victory in the opening singles, it was anybody’s match.

Yuki Bhambri, a former world No. 1 junior, Youth Olympics runner-up and the man who won the singles and doubles medals in the last Asian Games in Incheon, rose to the occasion, as he won two singles matches without dropping serve. Actually, he hardly dropped any points on his serve in six sets.

Rohan Bopanna, who has been a key member of the Indian Davis Cup team over the years, raved about Yuki, and declared that it was the best he had seen the boy play. Well, Yuki dismissed his friend and doubles partner Venus, with whom he had made the third round of the Australian Open last year, for the loss of seven games in three sets in the decisive fifth rubber.

“To come and play such tennis, after having played only the Wimbledon qualifying round before the tie was a tremendous achievement,” observed Bopanna.

The former world No. 3 doubles star, quite likely to partner Leander Paes in the Rio Olympics, lost the pivotal doubles in partnership with Saketh Myneni, against the strong Kiwi combination of Marcus Daniell and Artem Sitak.

“They had one breakpoint on my serve and took it,” recalled Bopanna, even as he bemoaned the fact that the Indian pair did not capitalise on its chances, especially in the second set.

On his part, Yuki picked Somdev for bouncing back the way he did to keep India on track for the World Group play-offs.

Doubles specialist Rohan Bopanna shares a light moment with captain Anand Amritraj. Bopanna is hopeful that India would do well in the World group play-offs too.-K. MURALI KUMAR

“The preparation is more about confidence. Somdev had won a Challenger. He tried his best, but Venus was getting everything right in the first rubber. It has happened to us all. Yet, he came back to win in straight sets on the final day. It is not easy, because you are 1-2 down, and think that it should have been 2-1 or even 3-0 in your favour,” said Yuki.

With the magical Leander Paes promising to strengthen the team for the World Group play-offs at home against the No. 1 seed, Czech Republic, which may have world No. 6 Tomas Berdych, the contest is going to be lively in September.

Last year, in the World Group play-offs, India almost pulled off a coup against Serbia, without world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, in Bengaluru. It was 2-2 before Yuki was tamed by Filip Krajinovic, in a rain-marred fifth rubber that finished on a Monday.

Even though the All India Tennis Association (AITA) had announced that either Delhi or Pune would host the tie against the Czech Republic, from September 18 to 20, Bopanna hopes that Delhi’s R. K. Khanna Stadium will be the chosen venue, as both Somdev and Yuki had enjoyed success on the centre court. Especially Somdev, as he won two Challenger singles titles apart from the Commonwealth Games gold on the slow court that often highlights the power of his legs.

Unlike the Kiwis, the Czech Republic has an intimidating record and the numbers to back it. The team had won two of its three Davis Cup titles in 2012 and 2013. It had finished runner-up in 1975 and 2009. It entered the semifinals last year, and had lost to Australia in the first round this season, as it did not have the services of Berdych and Radek Stepanek. More importantly, the nation has always been in the World Group except for the odd year, over the years.

The country has a 3-0 record against India in Davis Cup. The last time, it was an unforgettable fight in February 1997, as Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi played some of the best tennis on a clay court in an ice-hockey rink in freezing conditions, before the Czech, spearheaded by world No. 2 Petr Korda, pulled it off 3-2.

“Nothing like a home tie,” Bopanna remarked.

If you are not anxious about the result, you will be ready to enjoy world class tennis.