Fiery Bopanna will lead: Paes

Battle-hardened Kolkatan expects an intriguing tie against tricky Serbia

Fiery Bopanna will lead: Paes

Animated and ready smile, Leander Paes is always a bubbly presence on the court.Having agreed to be part of India’s Davis Cup squad for the World Group Play-off against Serbia, beginning here from Friday at the KSLTA stadium, the veteran hit the ground running on Tuesday after exchanging pleasantries with team-mates, coach and captain.

The 41-year-old, who will partner Rohan Bopanna for the crucial doubles tie on Saturday, warmed up with a short match against Saket Myneni and Ramkumar Ramanathan and the duo (Paes and Bopanna) appeared a handful for their young opponents despite not stretching themselves.

“Rohan will lead,” said Paes, talking about his strategy with Bopanna. “This is the second time I am playing with Rohan. First (time was) against Uzbekistan and it did not go that well. This time to come together is going to be a lot of fun. Rohan is playing in front of his home crowd and that’s going to be big motivation factor for him. The fire will definitely be there in him. For me (there have been) so many different partners and I had to take different roles. With Mahesh, most of he time I led. With Radek (Stepanek), sometimes I lead, sometimes he does. Here, I feel that Rohan is going to be the leader and I am going to be the solid one. I want to give him enough opportunities to go for it.

“Particularly considering the high altitude here and the nature of the surface, I am going to let Rohan lead. Because if tries to play soft and tries to just keep ball in play, the ball is going to be flying everywhere. I came out and saw him today; he asked me for a couple of tips on his return of serves and certain other shots as to how he should approach. Rohan is a firepower player, that is his strength. He is like a bull, you let him run right through the opponents,” he elaborated.

With the multiple Slam winner tangled in a legal battle for the custody of his daughter, he had to miss quite a chunk of the season. “It’s been a bit of a tough year for me,” Paes began. “Unfortunately, I missed the first two ties (Chinese Taipe and South Korea) of the year. Considering how much Davis Cup means to me, that’s something I certainly felt about. I was about to miss this one as well because I have been playing non-stop for 15 weeks now. I missed about three months at the beginning of the season. I got a phone call from captain (Amritraj) and Rohan. They basically said ‘we need you to come and play.’ So I just spoke to my team back in Mumbai and adjusted a few things around. I told the captain that I had an obligation on Friday early morning and I have to be in Mumbai at that time. The captain was fine with it,” remarked Paes, who will be in action on Saturday.

The Kolkatan said, as a senior member, his job was to take the pressure off the team. “The tie will be intriguing,” he pointed out. “I saw (in newspapers) in the morning that Somdev said that the tie hinges on the doubles. I will always take the pressure, but there are four singles and only one doubles. Day one is crucial for all Davis Cup matches, but I don't want to predict anything. If Novak Djokovic, Janko Tipsarevic and Victor Troicki had come, it would have been another quality all together. But even with this team, there is a lot of quality. The two Serbian guys (in singles) are two solid players.”

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