India’s is a rich Davis Cup history. It is the best tennis nation never to have won the Cup, a record which until recently belonged to Argentina, which had lost four finals before winning in 2016. India has reached the final thrice – in 1966, 1974 and 1987.
Bhupathi: ‘Selection criteria were not met by Leander’
But in recent times, the number of times it has had to start from scratch have been innumerable. The sniping, the bickering have all been far too much. It reared its ugly head again ahead of the Asia – Oceania Group I Round Two tie against Uzbekistan here. If anybody had assumed that the Leander Paes – Mahesh Bhupathi saga would die its natural death, it was not to be.
Yet, an experienced side, comprising two debutants in Prajnesh Gunneswaran and N. Sriram Balaji, managed to overcome Uzbekistan, albeit a depleted one, 4-1. Ramkumar won his reverse singles rubber beating Sanjar Fayziev 6-3, 6-2 but Temur Ismailov, like a ember in a dying fire, beat Prajnesh 7-5, 6-3.
“I am thrilled,” said Bhupathi after his first Cup outing as captain. “Coming here with so many different variables and factors to deal with, to win the tie in two days, I am thrilled about getting an opportunity to get back into the World Group.”
“Playing dead rubbers is a very difficult proposition, so I don't think we are going to dwell too much into today's results. I am really proud of these guys. They kept their head down, kept their focus regardless of what transpired behind the scenes and got the win.”
There is always the risk of reading too much into a single tie. In such a scenario the 4-1 result shouldn’t trick one. India still doesn’t possess a single top-100 player for it to consistently compete with the best; at least till such a time Yuki Bhambri plays injury free.
The emergence of Prajnesh and Sriram Balaji certainly gives the captain more options, but the jury is still out on whether it necessarily means more depth. Ramkumar is still a work in progress and seems to have plateaued in the last year or two.
“We had a team meeting today and they [players] know that they can’t take their spot in the next tie it for granted,” Bhupathi said. “Hopefully we will have a full force with Yuki, Saketh [Myneni] and Sumit [Nagal] all back. I'm sure they will do what they have to do to make the team again.”
In recent times not many have left a lasting legacy on Indian tennis. If anything, it was only about survival. For sure, Bhupathi wouldn’t want to be remembered that way too.
“When I was asked [to captain] a lot of people advised me not to take it because Somdev [Devvarman] retired and that we didn't have enough firepower," he said. "There were too many away ties coming up. They told me to take it when things are easier. I think it’s always a challenge when you have to build something from ground zero. I’m enjoying it so far.”
The result: India bt Uzbekistan 4-1 (Ramkumar Ramanathan bt Sanjar Fayziev 6-3, 6-2; Prajnesh Gunneswaran lost to Temur Ismailov 7-5, 6-3).