Davis Cup: India at ease on grass

The victory against Korea in the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Group I tie has been attributed to India’s expertise of playing on the grass court. "Had it not been for grass, we may not have been 2-0 up on the opening day," contends India’s non-playing captain Anand Amritraj.

The Indian team celebrates after defeating Korea 4-1 in the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Group I tie in Chandigarh.   -  PTI

It was a welcome return to the grass courts for India in the Davis Cup. However, considering the manner in which India perspired to defeat a depleted Korea team, and that too on its favourite surface, raises the question whether this team is capable of marching into the World Group.

Yet, there is no doubt that the Indian team is improving. The fact that it handled the tricky challenge against Korea — which has won six of the 11 ties played between the two countries — without the services of Yuki Bhambri and Somdev Devvarman provided a fair hint of this.

Both Saketh Myneni and Ramkumar Ramanathan played ‘live’ singles rubbers on the opening day for the first time in their careers.

Saketh, 28, sought by Rohan Bopanna to partner him in the men’s doubles at the Rio Olympics, had been troubled by shoulder and foot injuries in recent weeks. He did manage to make it to both the French Open and Wimbledon qualifying events, but lacked match exposure.

It was on his suggestion that captain Anand Amritraj requested for grass courts for the Davis Cup, and it ensured that the Koreans were taken out of their comfort zone.

“Had it not been for grass, we may not have been 2-0 up on the opening day,” said Anand.

The captain pointed out that under his leadership, and that of the earlier captain, S. P. Misra, India had not played on grass.

The last time India played its Davis Cup tie on grass was in 2008 at the R. K. Khanna Stadium in Delhi. Thereafter, the grass was removed from the centre court, as the stadium and the DLTA Complex were renovated at considerable cost for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

“Somdev has been our No. 1 player for some time. The leading player has the right of choice of surface,” explained Bopanna, as he tried to visualise the reasons for ignoring grass for eight long years. Somdev was ill at ease on grass.

Like Leander Paes, who has thrived on grass against some of the very best players in the world, and Bopanna, whose big game and fine hands make him a formidable challenge on grass, Saketh has the craft and temperament to be at his best on grass.

Even though groomed for long on European clay, Ramkumar Ramanathan also has a big serve and the ability to volley to be efficient on grass. He did play a mature game in the first singles. Ramkumar underlined his strong physical fitness while beating Seong-Chan Hong in four sets, as the Korean collapsed in the end following a bout of cramps.

The only jarring note in Ramkumar’s game was when he allowed a 5-2 lead against Yong-Kyu Lim slip away in the decider of the fifth rubber.

Yong-Kyu Lim, incidentally, could not complete his first singles against Saketh Myneni on the opening day.

Overall, the defeat in the fifth rubber did not mean much, as India had already sealed the tie with the victory in the doubles, where Bopanna and Paes delighted everyone with a spectacular performance. Paes later declared that the pair had a few more gears at its command to step up the game should the situation warrant so.

Will grass continue to be a good option for India in future ties?

“It depends,” said Bopanna, “on whom we get to play.”

It does make sense that the opposition needs to be gauged before deciding on the surface. Besides, it is necessary to see how many in the Indian team would opt for grass, as the current crop of players rarely steps on the surface for competition.

As we see the monotonous grind of professional tennis, where power and endurance prevail over skill and style, there is no doubt that the longevity of the players depends a lot on how well they embrace the natural surface.

The Koreans were admirable, as they adapted to the courts well in quick time. They executed fine volleys and drops and had quicksilver movements.

The courts at the picturesque Chandigarh Club, prepared diligently by the team brought by Hironmoy Chatterjee from Kolkata, in association with the local staff, played true, fast and low.

Considering that, the players tend to get injured so often, it will not be a bad idea to encourage more grass court and clay court events at the national and international levels. Of course, the business of laying synthetic courts may suffer to some extent, but we will have healthy players, reviving the art of playing grass court tennis and nostalgia.

To that end, it may be a good idea to have the regular National Championships on grass, and also conduct Challengers and Futures events on grass and clay.

Let the world stay artificial, let us be natural!