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Mankad faces Hewitt in opening match

Adelaide: A depleted Indian team will need a near miracle to enter the elite World Group stage when they take on the Australians in a Davis Cup play-off match starting on Friday at the Memorial Drive Tennis Centre here.

With not a single player ranked in the top 200, India are also without the services of star doubles player Mahesh Bhupathi who pulled out with a shoulder injury.

On the other hand, Australia have the likes of world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt and doubles specialist Todd Woodbridge.

Ranked a lowly 831, Harsh Mankad will play Hewitt in the opening singles match while seasoned campaigner Leander Paes is drawn to play Wayne Arthurs. Paes will be partnered by Vishal Uppal in the doubles match on Saturday while the reverse singles are slated for Sunday.

While Hewitt has expressed his wish to play a charity football match on Sunday, in the hope that his team would have wrapped up the rubber by then, the Indians have no such luxury.

Bhupathi, ranked fourth in the world in doubles is not here which means India’s hopes of a sole win in the doubles tie has also diminished significantly.

Asked what sort of a performance from his players would satisfy him, Indian captain Ramesh Krishnan sounded less optimistic.

“I am not a forecaster to predict the outcome of a match. We are hoping that Leander will perform well, and let us see how it goes,” he said.

The Australians have played their mind games ahead of the tournament to perfection, with Hewitt suggesting that all is not well with the Indian team because he was surprised about Bhupathi’s injury.

While the Davis Cup reaches its semi-final stage at the weekend, Australia are forced to re-qualify for the 16-nation World Group having lost to Argentina earlier this year.

Team captain John Fitzgerald described the India match as the first step on Australia’s campaign for next year’s title.

India have played Australia ten times and lost seven of them. Of the three wins, one came on grass-courts when they met last at Sydney in 1987 in a semi-final.

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