Davis Cup: Mahesh Bhupathi should be retained as captain, say team members

Rohan Bopanna and Prajnesh Gunneswaran throw their weight behind Mahesh Bhupathi, backing a contract extension for their captain.

Mahesh Bhupathi's contract expires at the conclusion of the upcoming Davis Cup tie against Italy.   -  V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Rohan Bopanna and Prajnesh Gunneswaran have backed a contract extension for non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi.

Bhupathi’s term ends with the conclusion of the upcoming Davis Cup contest against Italy. He had replaced Anand Amritraj at the helm in April, 2017. An AITA official, in correspondence with PTI, had revealed a contract extension was unlikely.

Bopanna, commenting on Bhupathi’s value in the squad, said, “He brings in a lot more communication with the players not only just during the Davis Cup tie but throughout the entire year. That makes the big difference.”

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He added: “Even though you don’t meet him so often but the communication you constantly have brings in a bigger camaraderie when you come into the Davis Cup tie. That really helps and you know feel special with for the players you know when they come on the time great captain.”

Altruistic

Bopanna, who made his Davis Cup debut in 2002, recollected meeting him for the first time in 1997. “When I first met him and till today, he’s very much experienced and a senior player to me. No matter which tournament I played, wherever it was, he always gave that advice which was required for a player to grow,” he said.

“I think that comes from within him as a player. I don’t think he needs to go out there to wanting to really do it. The minute he sees any one of us play and if he sees there’s something we can improve and change, it just comes naturally to him. That’s the beauty of a player. It’s great to have him as a captain for us to get better and become better tennis players,” he added.

Mahesh Bhupathi (left) helps India's players improve their game with his advice, says Rohan Bopanna (second from left). File Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

 

Under Bhupathi, the Indian team reached the World Group Play-off stage twice. India lost to Canada (in September, 2017) and Serbia (in September, 2018) in away World Group playoff matches. Apart from Uzbekistan at home, the Indian team also beat China in an away tie in April, 2018.

‘Invaluable addition’

Bhupathi had seemingly pulled off a masterstroke when he brought in an inexperienced player in Prajnesh ahead in must-win rubber against China ahead of Sumit Nagal in the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Group I rubber last year. The southpaw defeated reigning junior US Open champion Wu Yibing 6-4, 6-2 to script a 3-2 victory; this, after having trailed 0-2. Prajnesh is currently the No. 1 among India’s singles players (ranked a career-best 102), and he, too, wants Bhupathi to continue.

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“He’s an invaluable addition to the team. The fact is he has played at a very high level for a long time and all of us are better off taking his advice,” Prajnesh said. “He’s definitely has won many Davis Cup matches under high pressure and he knows how to help us deal with all the things that come with Davis Cup. I’m very happy that he’s here with us.”

All the members of the team have a lot of respect for Bhupathi, according to India’s No. 2, Ramkumar Ramathan. “Having him sitting by our side, puts any team under a lot of pressure. It’s good to have him,” he said.

India’s doubles player Divij Sharan, who is set to make a comeback for the first time since 2012, said: “Obviously, we don’t get to spend that much time with him as we’re travelling 30-35 weeks. But he very closely follows all our matches. I always hear from him. He watches them online. It’s great to have him by our side and be there on court by our side,” he concluded.