AITA selectors to deliberate on Paes’ Davis Cup spot

Leander Paes, ranked 62, may not be selected for India's upcoming Asia/Oceania tie against Uzbekistan.

Leander Paes is fourth in terms of rankings among Indians under consideration.   -  Sushil Kumar Verma

Leander Paes’ place in Indian Davis Cup team will be up for discussion when the AITA selection committee meets on Monday to pick the squad for the upcoming Asia/Oceania Zone tie against Uzbekistan. The selectors will also decide on whether to opt for two singles players or three.

Saketh Myneni, who pulled out of the New Zealand tie in the last minute, and Sumit Nagal have made themselves unavailable due to injury issues. Ramkumar Ramanathan, Yuki Bhambri and Rohan Bopanna will therefore be automatic selections due to their superior rankings.

When fit, Myneni has the ability to play both singles and doubles but now the question is whether to choose three singles players or two doubles’ specialists. In case the committee decides to pick three singles players, Bopanna’s berth is certain since he is the best-placed Indian in the world rankings at No. 24.

Bopanna was dropped from the side despite being ranked higher than Paes in the previous tie in February but the big-server is likely to win back his place. Bopanna did extremely well at the recently concluded Dubai ATP 500 event, where he ended runner-up with partner Marcin Matkowski and en route to the final, he got the better of Paes and his partner Gracia Gulliermo-Lopez in the semifinals.

If ranking is the criterion, Paes will certainly lose his place in the side since he is placed fourth at No. 62 with both Divij Sharan (54) and Purav Raja (56) now ahead of him. There is also a feeling that if both Bopanna and Paes are picked, the team will be left with only Yuki and Ramkumar to compete in the singles. If there is an injury breakdown, neither Bopanna nor Paes would be able to compete in singles five-setters if required.

Even if the committee decides to have two singles players, left-handed Sharan and Raja may not be ignored this time with AITA officials going on record to say that they would like to give youngsters a chance to be in the team. In that scenario, it looks like Paes will have to wait for the record-breaking 43rd doubles win in Davis Cup.

The question would then be about the third singles player. There are two contenders - Tamil Nadu boys Prajnesh Gunneswaran and N. Sriram Balaji. Gunneswaran was in the side for the New Zealand tie in Pune, where India triumphed 4-1. The Asia/Oceania second-round tie, first for Mahesh Bhupathi as non-playing captain, is scheduled for April 7-9 in Bengaluru and the winner will advance to the World Group Play-off stage.

World No. 68 Denis Istomin is likely to lead the visiting side. Istomin, who stunned Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open second round earlier this year, had played a pivotal role in his side’s 3-1 win over Korea in the first round. He won both his singles and the doubles rubber with Sanjar Fayziev to shape Uzbekistan’s win in the away tie.

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