CHENNAI: Rafael Nadal. David Ferrer. Feliciano Lopez. Marc Lopez. Take a deep breath and let that sink in. It’s the Davis Cup side Spain picked, on Tuesday, for the September 16-18 World Group Playoffs in New Delhi. Three of the four are ranked in the singles top 20! Maybe they forgot they were facing India?
With 11 players in the top 100, the visitors had a whole host of options to pick and choose from. Any permutation would’ve made them odds-on favourites, but they selected the best possible team. Nadal owns 14 Grand Slam titles. Ferrer is a former French Open finalist. Lopez and Lopez won the French Open doubles crown this year. Phew!
By contrast, the hosts’ line-up is Saketh Myneni (World No 143), Ramkumar Ramanathan (202), Rohan Bopanna (17) and Leander Paes (62). The sole Grand Slam winner in the squad is Paes. Perhaps India are a bit overmatched? Speaking to Express, Myneni kept it as brief as possible. “That’s a fully-loaded Spain team and it’ll be a battle for us. Hopefully, that’ll bring out the best in us and we’ll be up to the challenge.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by former Davis Cupper and 12-time Major winner Mahesh Bhupathi, who said it would be an amazing experience for the team, that tackled a lightweight South Korea side in July, to get a taste of big-time tennis. “Wow, that’s rough. Obviously, they’ll be going in as heavy underdogs, but they need to go in with a positive mindset. Leander and Rohan might have the best chance to get one point, but they’ll need to figure out how to win the other two. It’ll test their mettle,” he opined from Florida.
SP Misra, India skipper before Anand Amritraj, felt it would be delightful for fans to witness the force of nature that is Nadal, outside of the semi-exhibition International Premier Tennis League (IPTL). The World No 5 last played a tour-level match in the country at the 2008 Chennai Open. “He is one of the greatest players of the modern era. Spain know that India are an easy foe, so they’re treating this hard-court tie as practice for their A-team. Last year, after the IPTL match against (Roger) Federer, Nadal had said he wanted to play in India again. I didn’t think it would happen so soon, but the early US Open loss probably helped him make up his mind.”
The All India Tennis Association (AITA), which decided to hold matches in the evening to bring in more fans, couldn’t have hoped for anything better. There will be free passes on offer instead of tickets. “Spectators will get to enjoy top quality tennis for free, so the stands should be pretty full. One of the important dynamics of any sport is the fans’ participation. Look at the India Green versus India Blue cricket match in Greater Noida. They’re playing good quality cricket with hardly any fans. That’s always sad to see, but that’s what TV has done,” Bharat Oza, the newly-elected AITA vice-president, mused.
No matter the end result, which looks quite predictable at the moment, India will be all the better for it.