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Davis Cup: Doubles trouble for India against New Zealand?

When Leander Paes used to partner Mahesh Bhupathi, the Davis Cup doubles match was always considered a sure-shot victory for India, but this time, the Kiwis are definitely the stronger team

Maharashtra Governor C Vidyasagar Rao during the inaugural ceremony of the Davis Cup at the Balewadi Stadium in Pune yesterday. Pic/PTI

The historic city of Pune gets its first Davis Cup tie after 43 years and the India vs New Zealand contest promises to be a cracker.

At a unique draw ceremony yesterday that had all the local Indian flavour to it, the Hon. Governor of Maharashtra picked Yuki Bhambri's name which is exactly what Team India wanted.

He will play Finn Tearney while Ramkumar Ramanathan will play the second singles against Jose Statham. In an absolute last-minute replacement that happened over many calls late Wednesday night, Vishnu Vardhan was flown in at the eleventh hour to replace the injured Saketh Myneni. Vishnu will pair with Leander Paes and they will take on Artem Sitak and Michale Venus in the doubles on Saturday.

While every Davis Cup tie is important and prestigious, this particular one holds tremendous significance for some of the main characters in the drama that will unfold over the weekend.

India’s non-playing Davis Cup captain Anand Amritraj (extreme left), Leander Paes, Ramkumar Ramanathan, Vishnu Vardhan and Yuki Bhambri at the Balewadi Stadium in Pune yesterday. Pic/PTI

Anand Amritraj, one of India's finest Davis Cup players, having played for over 20 years will sit in the captain's chair for the last time. His record has been tremendous as a player and very good as a captain, given the rankings of Indian players over the past few years and the teams that India has played.

This tie is his swansong and he will be extremely keen to go out on a winning note. For Leander, it's all about breaking the world record of most number of Davis Cup doubles ties won by any player worldwide in the 117-year history of the tournament. His selection over Rohan Bopanna has raised many eyebrows due to his current ranking, form and results, all of which have been below par by his own standards.

New Zealand team players Jose Statham (second from right), Artem Sitak (left), Michael Venus (second from left) and Finn Tearney (centre) during the Davis Cup opening ceremony in Pune yesterday. Pic/AFP

In the past, when he used to play with Mahesh Bhupathi, the doubles match was always considered a sure shot victory for India, but this time, the New Zealanders are definitely the stronger team on paper, having both their players ranked in the Top 50 in the ATP rankings. In the last tie in New Zealand, they comprehensively beat our doubles pair, without breaking too much sweat. Though Leander and Vishnu have played together, it remains to be seen how Vishnu is able to deal with the last-minute call-up for national duty.

The Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA) has done a fantastic job in creating a buzz around this tie. Tickets are all sold out and I suspect there will be a clamour for tickets on Day Two for the doubles.

Traditionally, the AITA has opted for two or three cities, which had grass courts to create a home court advantage for the earlier players like the Amritraj brothers, Ramesh Krishnan, Leander and Mahesh. The current Indian team is most comfortable on hard courts and hence, the options now are many for the AITA.

It would be a very good idea for them to take a leaf out of the Board of Control for Cricket in India's (BCCI) book and seriously think of having a rotational policy of cities for Davis Cup matches. This is the best way to not only motivate the various state associations, but also a surefire way of creating and spreading the interest of tennis across the country.

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