BENGALURU: Long before the Uzbek team arrived in India for the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Zone Group I second round tie starting from April 7 at the KSLTA Stadium here, there was a question mark over star player Denis Istomin’s fitness. With just 72 hours to go for the first rubber, Istomin has indeed pulled out.
Ranked 71st currently, Istomin, who handed World No 2 Novak Djokovic a shock defeat in the second round of the Australian Open, is nursing a foot injury in Tashkent and will be out of action for at least two weeks.
Captain Peter Lebed said he already has contingency plans in place. “Denis was supposed to come on Saturday but when he said he would stay back for tests on his foot, I had a feeling he would not turn up at all. I had a backup plan in place. With two days left, it gives me enough time to work on who plays singles and doubles,” he said.
India coach Zeeshan Ali believes it would be an even tie as India is also missing singles specialists Yuki Bhambri and Vishnu Vardhan. “Undoubtedly, Istomin’s pullout is good for us. But we are also not able to field two of our top singles players. So it’s more balanced right now,” he said.
However, India is yet to take a call on the playing combinations. In fact, Ali didn’t rule out the chance of playing both doubles specialists. He said that the team combinations would be decided after a team meeting, once Leander Paes joins the team. But India skipper Mahesh Bhupathi was not in favour of picking two doubles specialists. For Uzbekistan, the other most experienced player in the team, Farrukh Dustov, will spearhead the challenge. He said that others in the team have been preparing individually. “Sanjar (Fayziev) was playing a tournament in Bahrain. Temur (Ismailov) was preparing in Greece, while I was preparing in Tashkent. So, we’re ready,” Dustov said.
A right-hand injury had sidelined Dustov for several months but he said he was ready to play all three days. “I haven’t played since December but I’ve been training a lot. Fitness wise, I’m ready to play,” he said. Irrespective of injuries to their experienced Davis Cuppers, both sides have chosen to pick a young bunch in the team. While Prajnesh Gunneswaran and N Sriram Balaji would make their debuts for India, Uzbekistan has a fresh face in Ismailov.
Bhupathi said his players were ready to play on any surface and conditions. “We’ve a young group of kids who have the ability to play on multiple surfaces and can serve at 130 mph, which I think in today’s power tennis is a big advantage. I think just creating a team atmosphere and constantly working on the same bunch, we can instil the belief that we can find a way back into World Group. Then we can pick players depending on the opponents and surface,” he said.