BENGALURU: Within less than a week’s time, India face Uzbekistan in the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Zone Group I tie here at the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association Stadium. But on the first day of practice, newly-appointed captain Mahesh Bhupathi is concerned with injury of singles players. Yuki Bhambri and Vishnu Vardhan couldn’t join the preparatory camp here due to injury. Ramkumar Ramanathan is now the only experienced Davis cupper left in singles. But unlike Bhambri, he is struggling with form, and the other two singles players, Prajnesh Gunneswaran and N Sriram Balaji, are yet to play the event.
With limited options for singles, Bhupathi said he would have to re-strategise. “This is not a good start. Bhambri is the backbone of our team, and had been playing well this year. We were counting on him, but unfortunately need to re-strategise the team composition and see how the match-ups play. We have to see how the boys are handling practise at this altitude,” Bhupathi said. “We have to prepare our best. Without Yuki, we have only three options for singles. Vishnu, meanwhile, hurt his hand and he is also out of the question,” he added.
While doubles specialist Rohan Bopanna, who was picked in the reserve team, has joined practice, the other doubles specialist Leander Paes is yet to join the team. However, Bhupathi ruled out the possibility of fielding a doubles specialist for singles, though he has no option but to call either of them. “No way I can risk that. Prajnesh (Gunneswaran) and Bala (N Sriram Balaji) have never played Davis Cup before, neither five setters. If one of them is getting sore or injured on Day 1, none of my doubles guys can win me a singles match on Day 3. I’m sure I don’t want to risk that,” Bhupathi noted.
However, the 42-year-old is relieved to know that Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin is also recovering from a foot injury, and is yet to join the side. Istomin stunned Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open earlier this year. The 30-year-old is expected to join on Wednesday. Bhupathi said he would be happy if Istomin plays fewer matches than expected.
“If he isn’t playing on the first day, we’re happy to accept that. Dustov (Farrukh) has been playing Davis Cup for 10 years. We don’t know how good the other guys are,” he said.
Meanwhile, Uzbekistan also started their preparatory camp on Sunday, sans Istomin and Temur Ismailov. The latter is expected to join the side on Monday. Captain Peter Lebed, despite injury concerns, termed India as strong opponents. He added his players were ready for the challenge in hot conditions. “India are strong, and one of the top teams in Asia. They’re playing a home tie so they’ve an advantage. We know lots of players, so we know it’ll be tough. The conditions are also different because of the altitude, but we’re ready,” Lebed said.