Special week in my tennis journey: Jeevan on Davis Cup debut

The Chennai left-hander has been churning out results consistently for the last three years, but was not considered for Davis Cup selection.

Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan at a practice session.   -  FILE PHOTO/V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

Playing Davis Cup at the age of 30 is not a step forward for Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan but he still feels it will be a “special week” in his tennis journey when he faces Pakistan.

He firmly believes that winning against a weaker opponent would not take anything away from his debut.

The Chennai left-hander has been churning out results consistently for the last two to three years, but was not considered for Davis Cup selection due to the presence of higher-ranked players.

An opportunity arose when the top players refused to travel to Pakistan and he raised his hands up. With the matches shifted out of Islamabad, they again said they were ready to play, spoiling Jeevan’s chances.

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However, a shoulder injury ruled Rohan Bopanna out and Jeevan is now set to make his debut alongside the legendary Leander Paes.

“We have very good doubles players in our country. We have two guys in top-50. I don’t look at it as holding back. Tennis is a journey. I am a 30-year-old, I enjoy playing on Tour, regardless of whether I get to play Davis Cup or not. But it is a special feeling to play for the tricolour. And it’s not a step forward, it’s part of the journey,” Jeevan told PTI in an interview.

“I am excited to be part of the squad. It’s any player’s dream to represent the country, it’s the highest honour for a player to represent the country.”

The big-serving Saketh Myneni is also in the squad but indications are that it will be Jeevan, who will play alongside Paes in the doubles.

The diminutive southpaw said spending time in the company of Paes is an opportunity to learn.

“I am hoping to take new lessons. On tennis courts he is a very smart player. The way he looks at the game is very different to the players I have played with. Athletically, he is very gifted, he is still one of the best movers. Even at this age, he is still an amazing mover.

“I am not a big guy, so I move very athletically, I need to maximise those moves I can make at the net. I can relate to a lot of things, he talks about like how to move when at the net. So, definitely learning a lot from him,” said Jeevan.

Asked how his game complements Paes’ since both are good at the net, Jeevan said their left-right combination would trouble the opponents.

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“We both have trust in each other’s ability to put away balls at the net. The key is serving with left-right combination, that’s a big advantage we have.

“I have done well with my right-handed partners in the past, I have done well on ad-court too. Bopanna and I won Chennai Open with me on the ad-court, so that’s a familiar territory for me.”

Pakistan’s top players Aisam-ul-haq Qureshi and Aqeel Khan have pulled out of the tie, protesting the shifting of matches to Nur-Sultan. In their absence the country’s junior players will compete against India, making it a no-contest even before the start of the tie.

However, Jeevan said, “It does not really matter“.

“A match is a match, a win is a win. I don’t look at the opponent... whether he is a great player or somebody not that good a player. At the end of the day, nobody remembers, what was the score or who was the opponent. People just remember who won or who lost.

“Also it’s not an easy decision for those guys to not to come, I can understand their position. They are both great guys but I am excited to be playing regardless of who is playing.”

Jeevan achieved his career-best rank of 64 this year but dropped out of top-100 as the season drew to a close. But he is not bothered, saying he is playing bigger tournaments now.

“I feel like I am playing my best tennis right now. Maybe the results did not come as they come the last year but I would say last year I was playing on Challenger circuit which gave me the opportunity to play on Tour this year.

“The goal is to play on ATP tour. As long as you are playing up, that’s good. That’s the process I am on for the last 3-4 years,” he said.

Jeevan said he will play with compatriot N Sriram Balaji in the 2020 season.

“He has a big serve and is a natural ad-court player while I play on deuce court.”

“I am also hoping that Rohan recovers quickly. It’s Olympic year, so we want all our players to be fit. I wish him speedy recovery.”