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Indian hopes rest on young shoulders

Pragya Tiwari, Chandigarh, September 13, 2012, DHNS: 22:36 IST

Tennis Davis Cup: Bhambri to face Kiwis King-Turner in opening singles while Vishnu takes on Statham in second rubber

 Indian Davis Cup team member Vishnu Vardhan during a practice session at the Chandigarh Lawn Tennis Association ground on Tuesday. PTI
Indian tennis is wheeling into a transition and the Davis Cup Asia-Oceania Group 1 first round relegation play-off offers a peek into the future.

It also gives an opportunity to the young team to raise its game and win hearts at home. The Chandigarh Lawn Tennis Association (CLTA) stadium here provides the perfect backdrop for the hosts, who start favourites against lowly-ranked New Zealand on Friday.

It was at CLTA in 1990 that a 16-year-old Leander Paes made his Davis Cup debut in doubles against Japan which India won 4-1. At that time the CLTA did not even have the basic machinery, like a stringing machine, to meet the demands of a bewildered Japanese contingent, who later offered to sell their equipment to the Indians.

In 1993, for the World Group semifinal, Australia refused to come down here as they had never heard of the city and complained that it did not have a five-star hotel and a jet plane. They eventually played and returned impressed by the facility and arrangements.
Nineteen years since, CLTA is again hosting a Davis Cup tie and providing a chance for the young talents to prove their mettle.

In the absence of the stalwarts like Paes -- who kept off because of prior commitments --as well as Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna -- who were dropped on grounds of discipline -- the young but a confident squad is eager to earn respect.

The 20-year-old Yuki Bhambri, ranked 179, is the No 1 singles player. A former junior world No 1 and junior Australian Open champion, he is fast learning the ropes of what it takes to lead a squad. Somdev Devvarman, who had to skip the tie owing to a shoulder injury, did it admirably before him and Yuki is eager to achieve the same.

He will be playing the opening singles against New Zealand No 2 Daniel King Turner, ranked 382 and eight years his senior. It will be the second time Yuki will be the No 1 singles player for the country, last time being in Uzbekistan earlier this year where India lost 2-3 on clay. “I wanted to play first, so I am happy. I have not played against Turner but have seen him play on the circuit. It will be a tough match, but hopefully I won’t keep Vishnu waiting for long,” Yuki said.

Vishnu Vardhan, ranked 262, will play the second singles against New Zealand No 1 Jose Statham (317).

Vishnu will also be playing the doubles next day with Divij Sharan, who will be making his Davis Cup debut. They face Michael Venus and Artem Sitak.

There was a bit of heartbreak for the local boy Sanam Singh, who was left out of the tie. He, however, put up a brave face saying: “I will be supporting the boys. They are talented and I am proud of them.”

Captain SP Misra said Sanam will be roped in if the tie spilled to the fifth rubber. New Zealand, ranked 41, as compared to India’s 24, are banking on their experience. “We have more experienced players and it will favour us. It will be a close tie,” said Turner, who has played in 19 Davis Cup matches.

The two countries are tied 3-3 in their six meetings but it is India who won the last three ties. The muggy weather, too, will favour the Indians but it is to be seen whether the crowd will brave the heat to cheer the young side on.

For the young Indians the time is ripe and what better opportunity than the Davis Cup.

The draw

* Friday: Yuki Bhambri vs David King-Turner; Vishnu Vardhan vs Jose Statham.
* Saturday: Vishnu Vardhan/ Divij Sharan vs Artem Sitak/ Michael Venus.
* Sunday: Yuki Bhambri vs Jose Statham; Vishnu Vardhan vs David King-Turner.

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