Bhupathi warns of ‘brutal’ conditions ahead of Davis Cup tie

The Indian team captain underlines the challenge his unit faces in the cold weather conditions in Tianjin.

Mahesh Bhupathi... “I don’t think the ITF should be allowing this tie to be played outdoors. It is not healthy for anyone.”   -  V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Taming the dragon in its den may be a tough proposition, but the Indian team is gearing up for it by battling the conditions. It plays the Asia Oceania Davis Cup tie against China in the city of Tianjin on April 6 and April 7.

The major obstacle for the team has been the cold weather, besides accommodation and food. The difficulty hasn’t abated with time, right from the time the first batch assembled in Tianjin on Saturday. A few days had passed when R. Ramkumar and Sumit Nagal arrived, but there was no respite.

The team had to go out in search of food on the first night of reaching the city, and opted to change to a different hotel within two days with Rohan Bopanna paying the advance in the absence of a manager. While Ramkumar flew into China from Europe, Sumit Nagal had to reach Delhi for his visa which could not be coordinated in Spain where he was playing the same tournament as Ramkumar.

Read: Sharan decides against travelling with Davis Cup team

The Chinese Embassy in Delhi was willing to give him the visa on Friday, when he approached it. However, there could not be any confirmatory communication from the All India Tennis Association (AITA) as the office was closed owing to the occasion of Good Friday. Sumit eventually got his visa on Monday.

On the eve of the draw, the captain of the Indian team — multiple Grand Slam champion Mahesh Bhupathi — opted to throw some light on the situation and the challenge ahead. “The conditions are pretty brutal. The evening session had to be moved indoors since it was snowing on the court. It is extremely cold. Honestly, I don’t think the ITF should be allowing this tie to be played outdoors. It is not healthy for anyone,” said Mahesh.

Mahesh also pointed out that the courts in Tianjin were a bit different from the regular hard courts. He said, “The court is slow and low bouncing, in general. But, the balls are moving through the air. The boys are used to playing on hard courts.”

‘No issues’

The focus may be on the four singles rubbers, but with Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes jumping into the fight together, doubles could be exciting. “We have no issues. Practise has been good every day. Doubles is the one point that I think we can bank on, at this stage,” said Mahesh. The statement was refreshing considering all the turmoil between Mahesh, Leander and Bopanna over the last few years.

While the experienced Di Wu and Ze Zhang are expected to shoulder the responsibility for China, the new talent Yibing Wu, the US Open junior singles and doubles champion last year, could make it interesting.

On the flip side, Yibing Wu has not been playing in the circuit for some time due to injury. “All of them are here and seem to be fully healthy to me,” Mahesh said after watching the Chinese prepare for the tie in right earnest.

In the absence of the No. 1 Yuki Bhambri, who has been hampered by an abdomen strain, the onus will be on Ramkumar, Sumit and Prajnesh Gunneswaran to win the singles points. All the Indian players are better ranked than the Chinese, and thus could hold the edge. “We will fight hard and do our best with the team that is here in China. That is the plan,” said Mahesh.

‘We are survivors’

Playing tennis could be a lot more complicated in the conditions, and the difficulties faced by the visiting team could work both ways. “We are survivors,” said Mahesh, marshalling the team on the battle front like a seasoned general.

The draw will be made on Thursday. The first day will feature two singles, and Saturday will feature the doubles and two reverse singles. All the matches will be played in the best of three sets format.

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