| Japanese team member Takao Suzuki shakes Leander Paes’ hand after the Davis Cup draw in New Delhi on Thursday. (AFP)
New Delhi: It will be a big moment for the young Rohan Bopanna when he kicks off India’s Davis Cup challenge against Japan in the Asia-Oceania group I, first round tie here on Friday.
The 22-year-old has been drawn to taken on Gouichi Motomura in the first singles match and it will signify Bopanna’s taking over the mantle from the country’s leading player Leander Paes.
Both Bopanna (343) and Harsh Mankad (479) are ranked above Paes, who is in the thousands in computer rankings, and it was Bopanna’s big-serving ability on grass that tilted captain Ramesh Krishnan’s decision in his favour.
“Rohan has been playing excellent tennis. He reached the Asian tennis championship final last year, and since September — when we played Australia — he has improved a lot,” said Paes.
“The decision reflects the captain’s faith in him and his ability on grass. The whole team is behind him, and he will also be on home courts, so it’s a great opportunity for him to excel,” Paes said.
Bopanna himself was enjoying his first big moment on the stage and gave no impression of being nervous. He had played the reverse singles against Australia last year at Adelaide in the play-off tie for the Elite World Group and lost to Scott Draper.
But that was a dead rubber. So, effectively he will be making his Davis Cup debut on Friday.
Bopanna does not have happy memories against either Motomura or Takao Suzuki, against whom he is scheduled to play the reverse singles on Sunday.
He lost to Motomura at the ATC final in Tashkent in October and to Suzuki at the Busan Asian Games in the round of 16.
But the enthusiastic youngster quickly dismissed any such negative thoughts.
“I am aware of that (defeat) but this time the surface is going to be different and grass is my favourite surface. I am playing better now, so let us see how it goes,” a confident Bopanna said.
Krishnan said he was happy with way the draw had panned out.
“It is good that Bopanna now knows he has to play both the singles matches on the first and third days in the morning. Leander is experienced and will adjust to the change,” he said.
But, however crucial a role Bopanna might be playing, both India and Japan are aware that it will still be Paes who will be the key.
“I think after a long time, for the first time we have a good chance of winning other matches also. We have a very good team as a whole and if Rohan could cull out maximum points from his matches, that would be fantastic,” Paes said.
Feb. 7: Rohan Bopanna vs Gouichi Motomura; Leander Paes vs Takao Suzuki; Feb. 8: Leander Paes/Mahesh Bhupathi vs Jun Kato/Thomas Shimada; Feb. 9: 4. Rohan Bopanna vs Takao Suzuki; Leander Paes v Gouichi Motomura.