Sriram Balaji ready for Davis Cup challenge

Three players ranked better than Balaji, Leander Paes (69), Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan (88) and Purav Raja (89) were not called for duty.

Balaji said that he was "very much looking forward to the tie." (File Photo)   -  V. Sreenivasa Murthy

The call to be ready for the Davis Cup World Group play-off tie against Serbia was a bolt from the blue for Sriram Balaji, who is ready to grab the chance and deliver his best tennis.

"I was asked two days back if I am fit and available for the tie against Serbia. I said yes," said Balaji, who is ranked 110 in the world in doubles.

With Asian Games gold medallist Divij Sharan pulling out owing to an injury, and the top singles player Yuki Bhambri also out with a knee injury, there has been an upheaval in the six-member team selected for the tie.

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Three players ranked better than Balaji, Leander Paes (69), Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan (88) and Purav Raja (89) were not called for duty, possibly owing to Balaji’s better equation with Bopanna, as was evident during the tie against Uzbekistan in Bengaluru.

"Me and Bops have a very good understanding, on and off the court. With the captain helping us from outside, we were able to play our best against Uzbekistan last year," recalled the 28-year-old Balaji.

There was no worry about the visa for Serbia as Balaji pointed out that it was "visa on arrival for Indians for 30 days." The team is scheduled to assemble on Saturday, and will have five days of training "to get used to the conditions", on indoor clay in Kraljevo. Balaji said that he was "very much looking forward to the tie."

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With Saketh Myneni already part of the six member team and with Arjun Kadhe coming in as the replacement, it will be interesting to see how captain Mahesh Bhupathi handles the available resources against a formidable team, even without former World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

"Challenges are part of Davis Cup. We will try our best," Bhupathi said. Meanwhile, the Serbian team has been announced, and has five specialist singles players ranked from 33 to 199, with the former world No.1 doubles player, Nenad Zimonjic as the captain.

Filip Krajinnovic, ranked 33, was the hero of the last tie between the two teams in Bengaluru when he won the decisive fifth rubber against Yuki. Dusan Lajovic (62), Laslo Djere 89), Pedja Krstin (194) and Nikola Milojevic (199) are the other members of the Serbian team.