Bhambri to open against Lajovic

India look to cash in on home advantage as they take on Serbia in World Group play-off tie

Bhambri to open against Lajovic

For a country starved of a major singles champion, the Davis Cup has always provided some succour for the Indian tennis fan.

Their flattering performance in what is referred to as the World Cup of tennis does put India on the pedestal so far as the game is concerned in Asia. The three final entries (1966, 1974, 1987), besides many quarterfinal and semifinal forays, are a testimony to their past prowess. But India’s last appearance in the World Group came in 2010, and they get a chance to qualify for the elite 16-nation club when they take on Serbia in the play-off tie here at the KSLTA stadium from Friday.

The draw ceremony held at Vidhana Soudha, with Karnataka chief minister Siddharamaiah presiding over, saw Yuki Bhambri being pitted against the Serbian number one Dusan Lajovic in the first singles while Somdev Devvarman, India’s No 1, drew Filip Krajinovic in the second match of the day.    
   
Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna will meet Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac in the doubles encounter on Saturday before Bhambri and Devvarman return for their reverse singles on Sunday’s final day.

On the face of it, Serbia hold an edge especially in singles given the higher rankings and form of Lajovic and Krajinovic who will hold the key to visitors’ fortunes in the absence of their top players – Novak Djokovic, Janko Tipsarevic and Victor Troicki. But then rankings seldom matter in team games as has been proved by India on several occasions in the past.

The pull-out of Djokovic from the tie has definitely enhanced India’s chances but Serbian captain Bogdan Obradovic stressed his team wasn’t under pressure despite missing his star player. “Let me remind you we played last year in the finals and for sure this is one of the best teams in the world. Even without Novak, Viktor and Janko we are a very strong and competitive team. We have high goals. We have high confidence in our young guns and also have a very fantastic past where we won the Davis Cup (2010) and last year we were finalists.”

India’s main hope Somdev, who has a 1-1 head-to-head record against Krajinovic, felt the teams were evenly matched. “Every rubber is extremely important,” he noted here on Thursday. “It’s a chance to put a point on the board. Filip is a very good player and he is probably in the best form of his life. I am playing some good tennis as well. I am looking forward to it and I will fight till the end,” said the 144-ranked player who reached the Shanghai Challenger final last week.

While the home camp is pinning its hope on the doubles rubber to tilt the balance in its favour on the middle day, what with the recalled Paes expected to bring his vast experience into play, it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that India need to win at least two more singles matches to qualify.

Though the Serbians admitted that Paes’ return had made their task that much more difficult, the No 2 team in the world have veteran Nenad Zimonjic to neutralise Paes’ advantage. But Zimonjic conceded that Paes-Bopanna held an edge.

“It's definitely going to be a difficult match,” noted Zimonjic.
“I'm here to support my team in the best way I can on and off the court. There are no secrets between me and Leander and Rohan. We know each other really well. And they had a chance to play against Ilija as well on a couple of times. Maybe not Leander, but Rohan in singles and Devvarman as well… They used to play together so there will be no secrets there too. They have a great team and I would say they are slight favourites in this doubles match but we too can win against really good teams and that's the approach we have for this one,” he reasoned.   

Bhambri and Somdev have endured a largely indifferent season and they will have to bring their A game to the court to put India ahead as winning at least one game going into the doubles match could prove crucial to the home team.


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