|Vishnu Vardhan (from left), Yuki Bhambri, non-playing captain SP Misra, Sanam Singh and Divij Sharan, on Thursday. (PTI )
Chandigarh: In what might be called the a test for the next generation of Indian tennis, the Yuki Bhambris will battle it out against New Zealand, to stay in the Asia Oceania Group I, from Friday.
Bhambri and Vishnu Vardhan will lead the Indian challenge in the absence of the big names, who were involved in ugly public spats in the lead up to the London Olympics. That is one reason why one cannot really say that the process of transition is not going to begin with the right backdrop.
The quartet of Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, Rohan Bopanna and Somdev Dev Varman are missing in the line-up and it will be a big test of nerves and skills for the youngsters.
Both Paes and Somdev, who is out due to a shoulder problem, are expected to make a comeback when the next Davis Cup assignment comes.
However, there is uncertainty if Bhupathi and Bopanna will come back to represent the nation as they have been axed from the side due to the bitter selection row ahead of the Olympics.
The national federation, AITA, could afford to do without them and experiment with the youngsters since they are capable of taking the fight with the not-so-strong New Zealand line-up.
It will be only the second time in the last 18 years that the Indian team will have neither Paes nor Bhupathi in their Davis Cup line-up.
The last time they missed a Davis Cup together was the World Group first round tie against top seeds Serbia in March, 2011. India lost that tie 1-4 to get back to World Group play-offs.
Bhambri will open India’s campaign, drawn against New Zealand’s Daniel King-Turner for the first rubber.
Vishnu will play on all three days, taking on New Zealand No.1 Jose Statham in the second rubber, before playing the doubles on Saturday, followed by the reverse singles on Sunday.
On day two, Vishnu will combine with Divij Sharan against the Michael Venus and Artem Sitak, while on the last day of the tie, Yuki will play Statham in the fourth rubber and Vishnu will face Daniel in the second reverse singles.
But if India could seal the fate on the first two days itself, then Sanam Singh will certainly be playing on the last day in place of Vishnu.
The rankings and the recent performances point towards superiority of the young Indian players and the hot weather conditions would only help the hosts. But writing off New Zealand completely will be foolish.
The winner will remain in Group I while the loser will play Chinese Taipei next month, where the vanquished team will be relegated to Group II for the 2013 season.
India would fancy their chances in the tie since Yuki, Vishnu, Sharan and Sanam all have had a very good season thus far. Both in ranking and performance on the Tour, the Indian players are a notch above their opponents.
Yuki, at 179th, is the highest-ranked singles player among all who will play in this tie.
The Delhi lad has won Challenger titles in both the singles and the doubles this season. He has also reached quarter finals of four other tournaments.
Compared to that, New Zealand’s top player Statham is ranked 317th. He was mostly successful while playing ITF Futures, a notch below the Challengers, winning three titles.
But he has struggled in the Challenger circuit as reaching pre-quarter finals only once is his best show.
However, when it comes to experience of playing in the Davis Cup, New Zealand are in a much better position than the hosts.
Statham (23), Daniel (32), Venus (10) and Sitak (5) have the experience of playing 70 matches among them, compared to just five of the Indians.
Yuki is the most experienced with three matches in two ties while Vishnu and Sanam have played one match each.