BENGALURU: After taking over from Anand Amritraj as non-playing captain, Mahesh Bhupathi has introduced a few changes to the Indian Davis Cup team. Preference for youth, paying more attention to singles and now, barring players from speaking to the media. He has even refused to divulge the combination, which becomes complicated following the withdrawals of Yuki Bhambri and Denis Istomin.
While Indians have dominated doubles for years, that phase is in all likelihood over. Thus choosing partners becomes a tricky call. The first involves Leander Paes. After a long ego battle, he and Bhupathi have teamed up again. With Bhupathi in a new role, Paes' inclusion is far from certain, despite him winning the Leon Challenger.
Asked if Paes would be in the team, as the conditions he faced in Leon would match that of Bengaluru, Bhupathi said he would have to see more of him in the practice sessions. “I saw Leander for the first time since he arrived. He looks fresh but let him play some sets, then we’ll see. He played in similar conditions in Mexico and that definitely helps. But the team hasn’t been finalised yet,” he said. Paes hasn't been in the best of form lately. He partnered Vishnu Vardhan in the tie against New Zealand and lost.
The other question mark is over Rohan Bopanna. He had pulled out of the Round 1 tie and has been kept in reserves for this one. His form isn't great either. Apart from Chennai Open, he hasn't won anything this year.
Next come the youngsters. Ramkumar Ramanathan, Prajnesh Gunneswaran and N Sriram Balaji are the options for singles, although one of them is also likely to partner either Bopanna or Paes in doubles. But considering Ramkumar's form and fitness, he might not be the best choice for doubles, as that might mean three matches in three days.
Amid speculation over combination, Bhupathi felt Istomin's absence doesn't change his plans, as he has only three options for singles. But he said the absence of Uzbekistan's top player leaves the tie delicately poised. “For us, losing Yuki was a big blow. After Istomin's exit, the tie looks evenly poised,” he said.
However, it doesn't seem Bhupathi has plans for both the seniors. He stressed on young blood while selecting the team, pushing Bopanna and Paes to reserves. Had Yuki, Vardhan or Saket Myneni been fit, he might not even have chosen them. Bhupathi feels their injuries have opened the door for others. “You don't get opportunities often. If they put up a good show, they will be contending with Yuki and Saket once they are back.
“Every kid dreams of playing for the country. For them it is 20 years of sweat and blood coming to fruition, and obviously they are going to feel nervous. If they are not nervous, it is not normal,” Bhupathi added.