India's Davis Cup inventory

In recent times not many Indian Davis Cup captains have left a lasting legacy. In fact, it can well be argued that there is only so much they can do. With player development out of their hands, it's tough to effect changes in roughly three weeks that they get to spend with the team. Yet, after the 4-1 defeat of Uzbekistan, captain Mahesh Bhupathi seemed upbeat. “When I was asked [to captain] a lot of people advised me not to take it because we didn't have enough firepower," he said. "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.” Here is a look at the resources at his disposal.
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Undoubtedly India’s best singles player, Yuki Bhambri has had wretched luck with injuries. By his own admission, Bhambri has played only one complete season out of the six since he began his senior career. It was in 2015 and he reached a career-high ranking of 88 towards the end of that year. It resulted in a direct entry into the Australian Open main draw where he lost in straight sets to Tomas Berdych in the first round. Just when it seemed that he was destined for better things, injury struck again, this time in the elbow. It laid him low for six months and he plummeted into the 500s in the ATP rankings. A good run at the Aircel Chennai Open early this year, followed by two straight set wins in the Davis Cup against New Zealand and a more than decent set of results in the Challenger circuit in China kindled hopes again. He narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Australian Open, falling in three sets in the final round to American Ernesto Escobedo. But the hopes were doused once more ahead of the Davis Cup clash against Uzbekistan in April when an injury to his leg forced him out. “It is the most frustrating bit,” Bhambri said early this year when asked about his fitness issues. “It is the only bit that has held me back. I have always felt my game has been up there and from time to time I have proven it.” It will be to the detriment of Indian tennis if the 24-year-old fails to realise his full potential. Photo: R. Ragu
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Like Yuki Bhambri, fitness has been a bane for Saketh Myneni. But unlike Bhambri, he doesn’t have time on his hands. He will turn 30 this October and even in an era in which tennis players are playing well into their 30s, it’s an uphill task. “I need to make sure that I last the whole season,” Myneni had said looking ahead to 2017. “It hasn’t happened in the last four or five years that I have been on tour. It’s still a work in progress. I hope this is the year I start and finish strong.” A foot injury which flared up ahead of the Davis Cup tie against New Zealand in early February has ensured that this pursuit of his has to wait for another season. But when he made his Aircel Chennai Open main draw debut in early 2017, he was coming off a creditable run. After three failed attempts to qualify for a Grand Slam, he had finally made it at the US Open. In the first round he even stretched a much-higher ranked Jiri Vesely to five sets. His then ranking of 137 was his career-best. He also played his first Davis Cup live rubber against South Korea at home. But all the incremental gains made over the past year or two stand at the cusp of being frittered away. In the Davis Cup scheme of things, Myneni is a vital entity. With captain Bhupathi unwilling to carry a specialist doubles team, Myneni’s ability to play equally good doubles gives the team options. It’s imperative for India to have him back ahead of the World Group play off tie against Canada away. Myneni’s playing style – first strike tennis – suits the quicker hard courts and his experience will be invaluable if Canada, with Milos Raonic in its ranks, decides to play on such a surface. Photo: S. R. Raghunathan
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The 22-year-old is India's top-ranked singles player. However one cannot shed the feeling that he has plateaued a bit. At the 2014 Aircel Chennai Open, he stunned Somdev Devvarman in the first round. Then at the 2016 edition he made a memorable run to the quarterfinals. That apart, it’s tough to think of other outstanding achievements. He has a booming serve and a fierce forehand, a game which will ensure that he wins more than he loses. However, a non-existent backhand and some erratic serving at times have resulted in him coming undone. There have indeed been a string of firsts this past year. Having made his Davis Cup debut against South Korea last July, he has been one of India's singles mainstays. Later that month he even broke into the top-200 for the first time. In the World Group play off tie against Spain, he even took a set off Feliciano Lopez. Recently he made his first appearance in a Challenger final at Tallahassee in the US. But his lack of consistency in the Challenger circuit has hampered his chances of moving upwards in the rankings. Also, the dispiriting 6-1, 6-1 loss to Yuki Bhambri at the Aircel Chennai Open clearly showed who the best player in India was. But with age on his side, Ramkumar has ample opportunities to come good and live up to what he has been promising all along. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy
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Prajnesh's another of those promising careers blighted by injury. He first made waves in the junior circuit, winning the under-16 and 18 national singles titles almost a decade ago. But since then he has spent nearly half the time injured. The past year, though, has been different. He played 19 tournaments in all, the most in a single season in his career, reached his career-best ranking of 284 and almost beat Denis Istomin, Novak Djokovic's conqueror at the Australian Open, in the Australian Open Wildcard Playoff tournament. And on his Davis Cup singles debut against Uzbekistan, the first best-of-five sets match he had ever played, he gave a fine account of himself, winning in four sets. “It [2016] was new for me,” Prajnesh said ahead of the Uzbekistan tie. “I was happy to be competing and finding out what I was capable of. Every match and every tournament was giving me a new kind of exposure. That experience is something I needed. I am older than most guys but I have played a lot fewer matches than them.” It helps that he has a willing backer in Bhupathi. After the Davis Cup win, Bhupathi even revealed that he had sounded out Prajnesh the day he took over as captain. That Prajnesh is a left-hander offers a variety which the Indian Davis Cup squad hitherto lacked. The stars finally seem to be rightly aligned for the 27-year-old. Photo: AFP
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Predominantly an ITF Futures circuit player, Sriram Balaji, like Saketh Myneni, plays doubles regularly along with singles. This was one of the attributes which found him a place in the original six-man squad for the Davis Cup tie against Uzbekistan and then in the final four. On both the earlier occasions he was called up for the Cup more than four years ago – against New Zealand and Indonesia – he had remained a reserve. However the strength of his performances, particularly since the start of the year, meant that he couldn't be ignored this time around. The 27-year-old won two singles and four doubles titles and finished runner-up thrice in singles and once in doubles. To cap it all off, he came up with a fine performance in the company of Rohan Bopanna on his Davis Cup debut against Uzbekistan. Getting to his best singles ranking of 305 in the process will definitely make this period the sweetest of his career. Photo: M. Periasamy
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