| Mankad: ‘No rivalry with Bopanna’
Calcutta: Though the mood at South Club would suggest that the final scoreline of India’s Asia-Oceania Group I Round II qualifier against New Zealand is a foregone conclusion, the Indian coach Ramesh Krishnan doesn’t want to take anything for granted.
Though even the New Zealand camp concedes that India are overwhelming favourites, Krishnan sounded extremely cautious. “The advantage of playing them on grass gets negated because they have played a lot on these surfaces,” Krishnan said after a couple of practice sessions on Monday.
He also had a word of praise for the New Zealanders, in spite of the 4-1 bashing the Indians handed them last year in their own backyard. “It was a much closer contest than what the result suggests. Nielsen ran Leander very close and if India lost that match, we could easily have lost,” Krishnan said.
However, the coach also said that the Auckland victory had given the team the momentum going into this game. “It gives us confidence and the fact that Leander and Mahesh are in good shape, augurs well for us,” he said.
While Leander is likely to practise Tuesday, Bhupathi will join training from Wednesday. The tie begins on Friday.
Vishal Uppal has joined the squad as the fifth member and will start practice from Tuesday.
When asked whether the high temperature and humidity would tilt the balance in India’s favour, Krishnan’s riposte was prompt: “When we were there, it was ‘scorching’ cold. Now it’s for them to face the music.”
But the possibility of ‘off-on’ showers, a common ocurrence in the city at this time of the year, did make the Indian coach a little edgy. “With rain around, the nature of the grass courts change overnight. But that again, is the beauty of playing on grass-courts.”
Krishnan was all praise for the courts at the South Club. “As always, the courts really look in great shape.”
The veteran coach knows full well that a victory here will only be a small step towards a berth in the coveted World Group. “For the past few years, we are facing some of the toughest teams in the final hurdle. It almost becomes a no-match in that case. We only hope we run into an easier opponent this time around.”
The coach gave India’s tendency to stumble at the last block his own spin, saying: “We don’t have higher ranked singles players, making things more difficult for us.”
Meanwhile, Harsh Mankad, who has been the second singles player for some time but was displaced from the slot recently by Rohan Bopanna, doesn’t feel there is any rivalry between the two. “On court, we try to outplay each other, but off-court there is no rivalry at all,” Mankad said.
He insisted that he is not disappointed at losing out the singles slot to Bopanna. “He is currently playing very well, but surely I will get my chance sometime or the other.” He also felt that practising together has helped to improve his game.
But the 23-year old from Mumbai feels that he has to develop one ‘weapon’ to make an impact on the circuit. “It’s my first-serve and forehand that I’m really concentrating on,” Mankad said.
Talking about the need for a travelling coach to improve his game, Mankad said, “I have moved around with some coaches, but it’s time that I settle down with one,” he said. But he also lamented the lack of funds, which prevented him from hiring one.
“It’s really costly business. But at the end of the day, I really have to take that step if I’m to improve.”
Underlining the ‘teamwork’ factor with Bopanna, Mankad said the duo’s ranking are on the up and that augurs well for Indian tennis. “We have moved ahead significantly and hope it will go up in the coming days.” He added that his aim is to crack the 250-mark. “That’s my immediate target and I’m working hard on it.”
Mankad, who has played against New Zealand feels they will not be pushovers. “We really had to work really hard and it won’t be anything different this time around,” he said.
He feels quite at home playing in the city. “I have been here for eight to 10 days now and have acclimatised to the conditions.” But he doesn’t seem to be totally at home on the grass courts.
“I have grown up on hard courts, but I’m trying to make myself comfortable on grass as well.”