Davis Cup: Serbia are tough with or without Djokovic, says Leander Paes

India's veteran tennis ace believes the visitors will be no pushovers in the weekend's World Group playoff in Bangalore despite absence of the World No 1 from their ranks

India tennis ace Leander Paes has his work cut out, both on the personal as well as the professional front.

India's Leander Paes (left) and Rohan Bopanna share a light moment at the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association ground yesterday. Pic/PTI
India's Leander Paes (left) and Rohan Bopanna share a light moment at the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association ground yesterday. Pic/PTI  

On the personal front, he is locked in a legal battle with partner Rhea Pillai for the custody of their daughter, with one of the case hearings in Mumbai scheduled around the same time India play Serbia in the Davis Cup World Group play-off (September 12-14) in Bangalore.

Professionally, 41-year-old Paes is at his lowest world ranking — 35 — in over a decade. His defeat in the Round of 16 at the US Open recently, where he and partner Radek Stepanek were the defending men's doubles champions, has cost him dearly.

However, the six-time Olympian is ready to put everything behind as he dons the India blue once again over the weekend. He had missed the Asia/Oceania Group I ties against Chinese Taipei and Korea previously.

"I've had a tough year both professionally as well as personally, but in the end, you have to roll with the punches. I was on a break for a year due to personal reasons, but when an India call-up comes, I'm always ready.

It's interesting because this must be the seventh or eighth generation of India Davis Cuppers I will be playing alongside right from the start of my career which was around 24 years ago," Paes told mid-day from Bangalore yesterday.

The doubles rubber has always been a sure-shot point for India in the Davis Cup with Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi doing the honours over the years, and of late, Rohan Bopanna stepping in to fill those big boots after Bhupathi's exit. But the Serbians are no pushovers despite the absence of World No 1 Novak Djokovic and that third point (doubles) on Saturday will be tough, felt Paes.

Tough tie ahead
"The Serbians are a good side with or without Djokovic. Some may feel that doubles is just one point, while there are four singles ties, but at the end of the day, every point will matter here. In doubles, they have Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozolja, who are a formidable pair. They've beaten America's veteran Grand Slam champions — the Bryan Brothers — last year in the Davis Cup.

"Zimonjic is a super doubles player. He has eight Grand Slam titles under his belt. He's been my former partner so I know what he is capable of. Together, we have tasted a fair bit of success on the tour in the past. So, Saturday's doubles rubber is going to be a tough one," explained Paes, who has 14 Grand Slam titles to his name.

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