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Bopanna plays first
- Debutant Prakash Amritraj not overawed by Dutch challenge

Zwolle: French Open finalist Martin Verkerk will start for The Netherlands against unfancied Indian Rohan Bopanna in their Davis Cup World Group relegation battle beginning here on Friday.

Verkerk caused a sensation in June when he made the Roland Garros final, defeating former winner Carlos Moya on the way, but he was comprehensively beaten in the title-match by Spaniard Juan Carlos Fererro.

Thursday’s draw also paired world No. 13 Sjeng Schalken against 19-year-old debutant Prakash Amritraj in the second singles. The elder son of former Indian ace Vijay Amritraj realised a dream following a string of impressive performances in the ITF and ATP circuits.

Saturday’s doubles features Verkerk and John van Lottum against Bopanna and Mahesh Bhupathi.

Indian non-playing captain Ramesh Krishnan defended the choice of Prakash ahead of the more experienced Harsh Mankad, saying recent form and the age factor influenced his decision.

“He (Amritraj) has done well in the past three or four months and has scored a few good wins,” Krishnan said. “He is four years younger than Harsh, that’s also a factor.”

Prakash, who lives in the US with his parents, was always keen to play for India and became eligible this April.

The Dutch are firm favourites to hold on to their World Group slot although captain Tjerk Bogstra reiterated his view that there is no scope for complacency in any Davis Cup tie.

“The Indians have nothing to lose,” said Bogstra, adding that they have produced some unexpected results in the past.

The India captain agreed. “Everybody has us down as losers here but I’ve reminded my players that they can get a lot out of this tie. They can advance and make progress and they have their country to play for,” he said.

“This is Davis Cup. We are playing for a country so we have to play as a team, like real competitors and give it our best shot,” he added.

Krishnan, himself a former top-25 ATP player with a distinguished Davis Cup record, was not worried by the surface — an indoor hardcourt. “The surface isn’t a handicap for us,” he said.

Amritraj said his team was not overawed by the enormity of the task. “On paper The Netherlands should win easily, so if we took a few sets it would be something of an achievement… but we’ll give it everything we have,” he said. “We are fully motivated.”

Bhupathi, who starred in the 1996 upset over the Dutch on grass in Jaipur with two singles victories, was more realistic. “Logically we don’t have a chance,” he said.

“But that won’t stop us giving it our all. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.” Bhupathi has given up singles since a shoulder operation at the end of 1999.

Davis Cup history shows India leading 2-1 in head-to-heads with the Dutch.

They have met only once since the introduction of the World Group format — in the 1996 first round — when the Indians came from behind to win 3-2.

The visitors’ hopes have been hit by the absence of Leander Paes, a doubles expert who is still capable of pulling rabbits out of his singles hats. Paes is recovering from a worm infection in the brain.

India beat Japan and New Zealand by identical 4-1 margins in the Asia-Oceania zone ties to reach the World Group play-off stage. The Netherlands were forced into the play-offs after a 2-3 World Group first-round defeat to a Roger Federer-inspired Switzerland.

THE DRAW

Friday (play starts 3.30 pm IST): Martin Verkerk vs Rohan Bopanna, followed by Sjeng Schalken vs Prakash Amritraj.

Saturday (play starts 5.30 pm IST): Verkerk-John van Lottum vs Mahesh Bhupathi-Bopanna

Sunday (play starts 3.30 pm IST): Schalken vs Bopanna, followed by Verkerk vs Amritraj.

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