| New Zealand top gun Mark Nielsen at South Club
Calcutta: Forget Wellington, this will be a different ball-game. The warning from Leander Paes was meant for Mark Nielsen.
New Zealand’s top player had run Paes close when the two teams met last year in Wellington, losing in five sets after fighting off a 0-2 deficit. Kicking off his preparations to fight the Kiwis in another Asia Oceania group I second-round tie — this time in his own backyard — India’s Davis Cup wizard made no bones about the fact that his level of confidence has been fired up by some sparkling doubles form.
“In the last tie, we played each other on the final day. This time, I am really looking forward to meeting him (Nielsen) fresh on Friday,” Paes said while interacting with newsmen after the Indian team’s evening session Tuesday at South Club. Like Paes, Nielsen had his maiden workout Tuesday.
Having played the Miami Masters Series final with David Rikl Saturday evening, Paes took a four-hour drive to Orlando before emplaning for London. That was followed by another long flight from London to Mumbai where he landed well past midnight on Monday. And Tuesday morning, he was headed for home and Davis Cup.
Within two hours of checking into the team hotel, Paes had switched to tennis gear and was hitting with the Mankads and Bopannas at South Club. “I am a little jaded but ready for the preparations,” announced Paes long after the sun had set.
Like captain Ramesh Krishnan, the senior pro isn’t taking New Zealand lightly. “It will be a tough tie. These boys have all got big serves and are accustomed to grass. But it would be interesting to see how they cope with the hot and humid conditions.”
It could rain any day at this time of the year, Paes reminded the visitors. “The humidity will be even more unbearable after a shower. I think the heat will wear them down. We know that Nielsen, in particular, has struggled in such conditions.”
Heat or no heat, it will take some doing for a Nielsen or a Hunt to tame Paes in a Davis Cup rubber. The Indian is still taking no chances. He made sure the home team scored full points in the pre-match mental game too.
Rohan Bopanna came in for praise. “He’s a wonderful talent,” said Paes. “He’s got all the shots and some firepower too. There is scope to work on his mental stability and calmness.”
A victory here will take India to the doorsteps of the World Group yet again. “We’ve been meeting some very strong teams with great depth in that round… and losing. It’s not sensible to compare those teams with ours.
“I want to make sure India is the leading nation in the Asia-Oceania zone. We’ve been achieving that consistently for the past few years,” Paes signed off.