| Rohan Bopanna cools down during a break in practice at the South Club Thursday. Picture by Amit Datta
Calcutta: The court is nice, green and soft. The heat might just be enough to drive the Kiwis crazy and it is difficult to find many betting on the visitors in the Davis Cup Asia-Oceania group I second round tie against India to be played over the weekend.
Leander Paes looks hungry once more, and going by his Davis Cup deeds and New Zealand’s recent track record, there seems a bias in the debate on who are the favourites.
Not everybody in the Indian camp can take it easy. For Rohan Bopanna, it’s a challenge to establish himself as India’s second singles player.
The spotlight won’t be on the 22-year-old from Coorg when he takes on New Zealand No. 2 Alistair Hunt Friday. But Bopanna will be under scrutiny nonetheless, of several probing eyes, looking desperately for a player who could reduce the pressure on Paes.
“It’s not going to be any other match. There’s going to be a lot more at stake. It’s a question of cementing myself in the team as a leading singles player after all,” said Bopanna, the highest ranked Indian singles player at 348. In the increasingly busy calendar of a professional tennis player, all matches are equally important.
“But this is going to be a significant match. For me, its importance is paramount, because a win here will enhance my credentials as a reliable singles hand,” Bopanna told The Telegraph Thursday.
Even Paes spoke about the importance of unearthing another capable singles player.
“I virtually have to shoulder the responsibility in three matches and that takes its toll. It’s like having your job on the line in every match. But Bopanna has been hitting the ball well,” Paes observed.
Bopanna is drawing inspiration from his decisive win over Jun Kato in the previous World Group qualifier against Japan in Delhi in February. Even though the win came against a player way behind in rankings, the confidence factor remains important.
“I’m a lot more confident now. Representing your country is a big honour and to be able to cap it with a win is a great moment. Conditions like weather and surface are strongly in our favour and I should be able to make most of it.”
Winning a couple of ITF Futures titles, reaching the final at the Asian individual championship and beating the then world No. 86 at the Bangkok Challenger last year are the highpoints of Bopanna’s career so far. A win Friday will surely be added to that list.
Bopanna’s big, booming first service should come in handy at South Club and the player acknowledges that grass suits him fine.
Favourite surface, playing at home against none-too-formidable rivals, things don’t usually get so tailor-made in the big, bad world of professional tennis.
Time for Bopanna to make the most of it.
India have met New Zealand four times in Davis Cup. New Zealand have won three of them.
1975: Semi-final (eastern zone) in Lucknow: India lost 1-3 (Vijay Amritraj lost 6-4, 2-6, 12-10, 3-6, 4-6 to Onny Parun; Anand Amritraj lost 6-3, 8-6, 7-9, 4-6, 5-7 to Brian Fairlie; Vijay and Anand bt Parun and Fairlie 13-11, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4; Anand lost 7-5, 4-6, 3-6, 8-6, 2-6 to Parun; Vijay vs Fairlie 6-3, 8-6, 5-7 unfinished).
1976: Semi-final (eastern zone) in Auckland: India lost 2-3 (Anand lost 2-6, 4-6, 5-7 to Fairlie; Vijay bt Parun 4-6, 6-3, 8-6, 7-5; Vijay and Anand lost 1-6, 1-6, 13-15 to Fairlie and Parun; Vijay bt Fairlie 6-3, 10-8, 6-1; Anand lost 2-6, 7-9, 4-6 to Parun).
1978: Semi-final (eastern zone) in New Delhi: India lost 1-4 (Sashi Menon lost 4-6, 3-6, 5-7 to Chris Lewis; Anand lost 4-6, 6-3, 7-9, 3-6 to Parun; Anand and Menon lost 6-2, 16-14, 10-12, 2-6, 2-6 to Lewis and Fairlie; Menon bt Parun 6-3, 6-4, 6-2; Ramesh Krishnan lost 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 4-6 to Russell Simpson).
2002: Asia Oceania group I round 2 in Welington: India won 4-1 (H. Mankad lost 4-6, 0-6, 1-6 to M. Nielsen; L. Paes bt A. Hunt 6-3, 6-3, 6-4; Paes and M. Bhupathi bt D. Willman and J. Shortall 6-4, 6-3, 6-4; Paes bt Nielsen 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 2-6, 6-1; Mankad bt Shortall 7-5, 6-3).
Note: The first three matches were played under the old format of Davis Cup.