Davis Cup: Leander Paes will not be missed, says Mahesh Bhupathi

Leander Paes will not be part of India’s Davis Cup squad that takes on Italy on Friday.

Mahesh Bhupathi (left), Ramkumar Ramanathan (centre) and coach Zeeshan Ali at practice in Kolkata on Wednesday. Photo: PTI

The Indian team will not miss Leander Paes for the Davis Cup contest against Italy, captain Mahesh Bhupathi has said.

Paes, the most successful doubles player in the history of Davis Cup with a record of 43 wins, has been sidelined for the fixture, scheduled to begin on Friday at the Calcutta South Club here. Asked if India is disadvantaged by the omission of Paes, Bhupathi dismissively said, “No, it’s not.”

Paes has not been selected in the Davis Cup squad since India’s 3-2 win in China at the Asia/Oceania second round in April, 2018.

Read | We're looking forward to the Davis Cup tie, says Prajnesh

In the team are the right-handed Ramkumar Ramanathan, and the left-handed Prajnesh Gunneswaran, a fact that has given Bhupathi satisfaction.

‘Captain’s dream’

Bhupathi hailed the quality and variety possessed by Prajnesh. He said, “Prajnesh has got big serve, big forehand, and he’s a left-hander. I think it’s the captain’s dream to have that kind of variation in your side.”

Excited to have Prajnesh in the side, Bhupathi drew a parallel with cricket.

Gearing up: Prajnesh Gunneswaran (right) and Divij Sharan train in Kolkata on Wednesday. Photo: Debasish Bhaduri

“In cricket, the preferred opening pair is a left-right combination. And on Day One, I’m going with [a] left-right combination. I think it’s a great variation to have. And for me, it’s even a bigger bonus that Prajnesh is now almost near top-100 (102) in the world. So he’s obviously brimming with confidence.”

Read | India not the underdog, says Italy captain Barazzutti

Besides Prajnesh, India would have Ramkumar Ramanathan and the indisposed Yuki Bhambri inside the top-100, in the world rankings, by the end of this year, predicted Bhupathi. “I think all of them between 65 and 70, honestly. I mean, we all know that Yuki, if he stays healthy, has that in him. Prajnesh literally has nothing to defend till end of March[, 2019,] so there’s only one way to go up for him, and Ram is up and down, he can lose 10 first rounds in a row and all of a sudden he is in the final Tour event. So you know, he’s a bit of a wildcard but you know that’s the dream scenario,” Bhupathi said.

The Italians sweated it out at the central court for an hour. It seems the Corrado Barazzutti-captained side would prefer top-two Marco Cecchinato and Andreas Seppi for the contest, ahead of the spirited Matteo Berrettini. “That may be the pattern on Day One. But we are not ruling out any surprises,” he said of Berrettini, the World No. 53, who had beaten Prajnesh at the ATP tourney in Chengdu, China, in 2018.