Naresh Kumar, India’s former non-playing Davis Cup captain, will also be reviewing the India versus New Zealand Asia/Oceania zone group one, second round tie, exclusively for The Telegraph.
In the blistering April heat, India take on New Zealand in the second round of the Asia Oceania Group I of the Davis Cup on the grass courts of the South Club. Leander Paes, the old trusted warhorse now with 15 years of loyal service to the cause of Indian tennis, plays the opening match against Mark Nielsen, the highest ranked player in the tie (No. 338). Tall and blonde, obviously of Scandinavian extract, Nielsen is no pushover.
At Wellington last year, where India defeated New Zealand 4-1, Nielsen lost in a close match to Paes. Nielsen is tenacious, very quick and has good topspin ground shots. His forehand, especially when he runs around his backhand is lethal. But the odds are stacked against him.
The venue, the grasscourts, which for over many years have been our secret weapon in Davis Cup matches, the intense heat, with the experienced Paes rampaging at the net may prove to be too much for Nielsen. For some years now, I have not seen Paes in such good shape.
He is very fit and sharp. His recent doubles results consisting of two titles, a final and a semi-final have greatly boosted his confidence. Paes says that he was inspired by Martina Navratilova, who at 46, soldiers on relentlessly. It is difficult to visualise Paes losing the opening encounter.
Rohan Bopanna, the tall six feet three inches, 23-year-old from Coorg has to play Alistair Hunt in the second match. Hunt an experienced old campaigner was impressive in his practice workouts. He has a big serve and a sound all-court game. Bopanna will have to be at his fiery best to notch up a victory for India. A victory for Bopanna could well be a turning point in his career. Bopanna has a very good serve, which accounts for 50 per cent of the game, but needs a higher level of consistency in his ground shots.
Though already 23, by which time many child prodigies are washed up, I still consider Bopanna to be an excellent prospect. A top class coach guiding him through plenty of tournaments could mould him into a very useful player.
Nobody is even talking about the doubles; we are all taking it for granted that Paes and Bhupathi with their Grand Slam titles are past the post.
But the happy chest bumping days are sadly fading memory. Can they dig into the past, remove cobwebs and find the old magic' Of course they can do it, but it is not an easy task and they will have to strive hard.
If Bopanna is unable to notch up a win on the first day, then as always in the recent past, the tie will be poised on Laender’s shoulders. He will have to win three best of five set matches on consecutive days. With the scorching heat and the crushing pressure of Davis Cup, this is an unenviable assignment.
To sum up, I would say that this is by no means an easy tie, and the boys will have to be at their best to put India into the next round which will position them to challenge for a place in the elite World Group of 16.