It's a battle royale for India against Serbia

It's a battle royale for India against Serbia

India face one of the most ferocious Davis Cup challenges at home as nothing less than their best would be required to challenge world number two Serbia, who will test skill and strength of the hosts even without world number one Novak Djokovic, here from tomorrow.

India last qualified for the elite 16-nation Group in 2010 but were knocked out in the first round by this very Serbian team the next year in Novi Sad, where the visitors suffered a 1-4 rout. Now is the payback time but it is easier said than done.

Despite the absence of Djokovic, Janko Tipsarevic and Victor Troicki, the visiting side poses a serious challenge to India, whose players are struggling on the circuit of late.

India's top player singles Somdev Devvarman has had forgettable last six months during which he struggled to cross the first and second rounds on the ATP circuit.

On the other side, Dusan Lajovic, who will spearhead Serbia's singles challenge, is in great shape having played top-tier tournaments with reasonable success if not great. The world number 61 has lost only four matches where he was competing against players, ranked lower than him.

Most of his defeats have come when he was contended by players ranked between 30 and 40.

Somdev, though is coming into the tie very match-sharp after reaching both singles and doubles finals of the Shanghai Challenger. He has spent considerable hours on court while competing and his ability to stretch his opponents is beyond doubt.

At Davis Cup, Somdev has always come up with his best and India would hope that he manages to give India one point on Friday. He had lost against Lajovic when they competed last year in Italy but that was on clay, a surface which suited more Lajovic than the Indian.

India must target Serbia's second singles player Filip Krajinovic, ranked 107. If Somdev and Yuki Bhambri can tame the 22-year-old, India have a golden opportunity to re-enter World Group.

Krajinovic is also a tough customer with two Challenger titles to show this season and a couple of good performances at the top level but he is one link, India could capitalize on.

Yuki, who began the season well by winning the Chennai challenger, missed the good part of the calendar due to a heel injury. He has not played many matches after his comeback in late July and it remains to be seen how he fares now.

However, with an expected full house at KSLTA Stadium, cheering on Somdev and Yuki, the Serbians are sure to feel the heat.

If Krajonovic can be defeated on the opening day, India will have the opportunity to take lead on the second day when Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna will clash with Nenad Zimonjic and Illija Bozolzac.

Presence of Paes, the most successful player in the history of Indian tennis, is assuring for India but it remains to be seen how he combines again with Bopanna as they have not played together for long.

Zimonjic and Bozolzac had beaten most formidable pairings, the legendary Mike and Bob Bryan in Serbia's 2013 Davis Cup campaign even as later they had lost to Canada and Czech Republic.

Paes, recalled to the squad in place of Saketh Myneni, feels India surely have a chance to end as winners in the tie.

"If Serbia had come with Djokovic, Tipsarevic and Troicki, it would have been different. We will say how they face the pressure when vociferous crowd would support the home team. There will be five, six points which will have a crucial impact on the outcome. We will have to recognize those points, play smart and win those points," Paes said.

Zimonjic has played with Paes as a partner on the circuit and had a phenomenal 2005 when they won two titles and reached final of three other apart from ending runners-up at the year-end finals.

The Serbian legend, winner of eight Grand Slam titles, says it is difficult to play against your former partner.

"I have played against both Leander and Rohan. Both are great players. It will be tough for sure," he said adding that high altitude conditions won't be a concern for him.

It may also be noted that Zimonjic with his regular Canadian partner Daniel Nestor, has not lost to either Paes or Bopanna this season. They beat Paes and Stepanek at Wimbledon quarterfinals, overcame Bopanna and Aisam ul haq Quershi at Barcelona and Dubai.

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