Doubles in spotlight again

Vishnu comes in for injured Myneni after Bopanna stays firm

Doubles in spotlight again
The doubles pair in the Indian Davis Cup team has been an epicentre of controversies. Even a low-profile India-New Zealand tie, for the Asia Oceania Group I, beginning on Friday, hasn’t been left untouched in this respect.

Two days before the tie, India were left searching for a partner for Leander Paes after Saketh Myneni hobbled out of contention due to a foot injury. Rohan Bopanna, who was dropped for the tie, was the first choice for replacement but AITA selectors said he refused to fill in. Vishnu Vardhan then promptly responded to the urgent call for the national duty to ease out the worries.

While AITA officials insisted they had requested Bopanna on Thursday night to partner Paes, the Bengaluru-based doubles expert said he never got any “official confirmation” from them.

“Until and unless I get an official confirmation, how can I respond to it? When they called, I asked them to send an official confirmation but I got none, not even from the coach or the captain. What if I turn up and they say we don’t want you to play? Things can’t function on word of mouth,” Bopanna told Deccan Herald.

The selection committee had picked three singles players and one doubles specialist for the tie. Multiple Grand Slam champion Paes, ranked 64, was preferred over Bopanna, country’s highest ranked player at 28, leading him to question AITA’s selection policy.

 Captain Anand Amritraj conceded he would have preferred Bopanna to replace Myneni, saying “three people” contacted Bopanna. AITA secretary-general Hironmoy Chatterjee said he spoke to Bopanna. “But he said, ‘dada it won’t look nice if I join the team after being dropped.’ I understand his sentiments.”

The chairman of selectors S P Misra was also among the callers. “I called him last night and requested him to partner Leander. He is in town and it could have been sorted out. All our other doubles players are abroad. He said selectors wanted three singles players and one doubles specialist,” Mishra said.

In the changed scenario, New Zealand hold an upper hand in doubles on Saturday due to their strong pairing of experienced Michael Venus (36) and Artem Sitak (56).  However, all is not lost for India. Vishnu, with a solid overall game, is coming on the back of a productive 2016 where he won four doubles titles on the Futures circuit, besides the Asian Tennis Tour title at the DLTA complex. His form would be crucial for Paes, who is gunning to break away from his tied record with Italy's Nicola Pietrangeli for maximum doubles wins (42).

The form of Yuki Bhambri, who has a winning record in his recent ties against New Zealand, too would be important for India. A fit-again Yuki (368), India’s second-ranked singles player, was picked to feature in the first singles against young Finn Tearney (414), while Ramkumar Ramanathan (276) takes on New Zealand’s most capped Davis Cupper (26 ties), Jose Statham (417), in an elaborate draw ceremony that was held beneath the gigantic statue of warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

In a unique display of Maharashtrian culture, the two teams wearing orange coloured Marathi Pheta (traditional turban) rode on embellished chariots to an open air stage. The stage was flanked by traditionally dressed men and women on horses, in the backdrop of instrumental music and occasional blare of trumpets. India, entering the tie as favourites, would be eager to persist with the pervading warrior spirit of the region!
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