Happy memories come flooding back for Anand Amritraj

When the last time Pune hosted a Davis Cup tie 43 years ago, Anand was the hero. He had won the decisive singles match 6-2, 8-10, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 against Teimuraz Kakulia on the last day to help India beat USSR 3-1.

Anand Amritraj Leander Paes Davis Cup

Anand Amritraj said he would not underestimate the opponents just because they did not have players with impressive world rankings.   -  Sushil Kumar Verma

The happy memories came flooding for Anand Amritraj as he got ready for his last Davis Cup tie as captain of the Indian team, against New Zealand.

Of course, India had beaten New Zealand in a thrilling fashion last time in 2015 when the two countries met in Christchurch with Yuki Bhambri and Somdev Devvarman winning the two reverse singles on the last day to pull India through 3-2.

But, Anand’s memory went back a little further; 43 years to be precise.

For, when the last time Pune hosted a Davis Cup tie 43 years ago, in another arena, Anand was the hero. He had won the decisive singles match 6-2, 8-10, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 against Teimuraz Kakulia on the last day to help India beat USSR 3-1. It was accomplished after a marathon doubles victory with brother Vijay Amritraj against Vladimir Korotkov and Alex Metreveli.

That doubles match had featured 85 games in all, even though it was a four setter! The Amritraj brothers had won 13-15, 7-5, 19-17, 6-3 in those days of unending entertainment when the tie-break had not been introduced. In short, over three days, Anand had played 174 games!

‘’Happy memories for me to come back to Pune," said Anand, as both the teams met the media on Tuesday for a pre-draw press conference at the Balewadi Tennis Stadium.

Cutting to the present, Anand was swift to say that he would not underestimate the opponents just because they did not have players with impressive world rankings. They may not be ranked in the top-400 in singles, but the Kiwis can put up a fight.

‘’We know what they are capable of," said Anand.The good thing for the host was the fact that the hero of the Davis Cup tie against New Zealand in Christchurch, Yuki Bhambri, has been striking the ball well once again after losing most of last season to a painful ‘’tennis elbow’’. Yuki gave a glimpse of his confident game both at the Chennai Open and at the Australian Open where he made it to the final round of the qualifying event.

‘’It was very hard to be watching the matches on TV when we were playing Davis Cup last year. I am playing at a good level now. I am ready to play at my best and get us through," said Yuki.

Having stumbled in the World Group play-off the last three years against Serbia, Czech Republic and Spain, India is quite mature about tackling the challenge at the Asia-Oceania level. As Anand pointed out, it would require two guys in the top-100 for India to have a realistic chance of making the World Group.

The Kiwis were floored by the warmth of the host, especially with the matches scheduled for the evening in ‘’temperature so nice’’. The Kiwi captain Alistair Hunt said that his team would approach the tie point by point, set by set.

The secretary of the Maharashtra Tennis Association, Sunder Iyer, was quite proud about hosting the Davis Cup tie and making elaborate arrangements. He was particularly pleased to be able to name the four stands after Sashi Menon, Nandan Bal, Gaurav Natekar and the Kirtane cousins, Nitin and Sandeep.

All the seven courts at the tennis arena have been resurfaced and the venue has been painted nicely. More than the preparation, the host was happy that all the tickets were booked online, even though entry was free. It should provide for a vibrant atmosphere.

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