India start favourites against Taipei

India start favourites against Taipei

India start favourites against Taipei

India are unlikely to be troubled by a depleted Chinese Taipei but there is no scope for smugness as the visitors have some talented players in their ranks for the Asia/Oceania Group I tie, beginning here tomorrow.

Ever since thrusted into Davis Cup action, the Indian youngsters led by Somdev Devvarman, have produced superb results for the country. India could have been in a better position in the competition but for the players' revolt last year, the hosts are still in Group I.

Losing to Korea at home in the absence of top players denied the country a chance to challenge for a place in the elite World Group.

However, now India have a good chance to be there as Chinese Taipei have arrived without their top stars -- world number 54 Yen-Hsun Lu and Jimmy Wang (154) -- and a victory here would take them to Korea for the second round, the winner of which will play in World Group play-offs.

India have a strong singles players in Somdev and Yuki Bhambri and both of them enjoyed a successful 2013 season.

Yuki, who is in tremendous form, will open India's campaign tomorrow as he will play the first singles against Taipei number one player Tsung Hua Yang (216). The 22-year-old beat world number 89 Jack Sock last week in a Challenger event in Hawaii, where he reached the final. He is also a former junior world number one.

Somdev, ranked 103, will then clash with Ti Chen (284) in the second singles. Chen had good results on the ITF Futures circuit last year, winning three titles and making several semifinals.

Somdev had beaten Chen in 2009 in India's 3-2 win over Taipei in the away tie, which was first between the two countries.

Comeback-man Rohan Bopanna will pair with debutant Saketh Myneni for the doubles rubber against Hsien-Yin Peng and Hsin-Han Lee on Saturday and reverse singles will be played on Sunday. 

Somdev had a phenomenal season in 2013 as he stormed back into top-100 after beginning the year outside 600s but had a tough start to this season as he was shocked by young Ramkumar Ramanathan in Chennai Open and then made a first round exit in Australian Open.

India have relied on his never-say-die spirit to pull off singles rubbers in the past and the hosts would look at him to deliver yet again.

Yuki will go into the tie having played in a Grand Slam.

"The first match is always important. I am looking forward to it and put some pressure on Taipei. Hopefully, we will go up 1-0," Yuki said during the draw ceremony, which was lauded by the players as well as the officials, including ITF's David Smith, who conducted the draw.

After watching the cultural programme and the grand arrangements, Smith said he has never seen such a ceremony in his life.

The tie will also mark the beginning of a new innings for former star Anand Amritraj, who will sit in the captain's chair. He replaces S P Misra, whose exit from the support staff was a result of the players' revolt.

Amritraj said it won't make a difference who plays the first match since "it does not make a difference to the tie in the long run".

"He (Somdev) came from 650 to finish the year close to 90 that's absolutely unbelievable. That's why he was nominated for one of the most improved players of the year along with Rafael Nadal and Tommy Robredo. Since then, he had a tough draw in Australian Open, he lost to Feliciano Lopez, who is a very good player. He has only played two tournaments so far, it's not that he's playing badly. He's playing fine and just need more matches. Davis Cup will be good for him, it will give him confidence back.

"He (Yuki) played very good in Chennai Open. He won two doubles matches in Australian Open. He has played very well here in practice. Both Somdev and Yuki are top-50 material," he said.

It is also a comeback to the national squad for Bopanna, who was banned by AITA for national selection on disciplinary grounds but forced his way to squad after that decision was overturned by Karnataka High Court.

"It feels great to be back in the side. And we have a new captain by our side. I am looking forward to it," said Bopanna.

Bopanna last played in Davis Cup in 2012 against Uzbekistan when he won the decisive fifth rubber to script India's 3-2 win. Bopanna is not only a force in the doubles, if need be he can be a very handy singles player.

Myneni was rewarded for his brilliant performance at the Chennai Open, where along with his Russian partner Karen Khachanov, he shocked the top—seeded pair of Bopanna and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi en route to the semifinals.

Myneni was also chosen ahead of higher-ranked Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan since he enjoys a superior 5-0 singles record against Jeevan.

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