On paper, playing on grass and Fabio Fognini’s absence raises Indian hopes in the Davis Cup World Group Qualifier versus Italy, to be played at the South Clubon February 1 and 2.
The hosts are certainly confident and optimistic as the matches will be held on grass court, but they prefer to be as realistic as possible, knowing fully well how strong the visiting Italian contingent will be despite Fognini’s unavailability.
“If it (playing on grass) was that simple for us, the Italians then wouldn’t show up. If it was just because that it’s grass and we were going to win, I’m pretty sure then the Italians would stay at home you know,” non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi quipped after India’s first practice session at the Gymkhana Club on Wednesday.
“Nothing can be taken for granted. We are underdogs, but I feel we have a better chance of upsetting them on grass. That’s the bottom line,” Bhupathi stressed.
In fact, both Bhupathi and coach Zeeshan Ali reminded that the Indian players haven’t played on grass lately. “Compared to playing on hard court or other surfaces, playing on grass does give us more advantage. But it won’t be too easy as well for our players because they too haven’t played on this surface for quite some time,” pointed out Zeeshan.
That is why, as Bhupathi said, the Indian squad arrived here early to get accustomed to the surface. “We are starting to get used to the grass… The boys haven’t played on grass since June last year, so that’s why we made an effort to come here a bit early and get used to the surface,” the non-playing captain said.
If it (playing on grass) was that simple for us, the Italians then wouldn’t show up. If it was just because that it’s grass and we were going to win, I’m pretty sure then the Italians would stay at home you know.
The Italians are generally known to excel on clay and hard courts, but grass will not be intimidating them one bit, asserted non-playing captain Corrado Barazzutti.
“I’m sure our boys can adapt on grass. Even (Marco) Cecchinato, who last year had played just a little bit on grass before Wimbledon, has all the qualities to express himself best on this surface.
“They are all players that I think can play well, so in this sense I am lucky... We will find it out what kind of grass it’s going to be once we reach Calcutta,” Barazzuti was quoted as saying by the Italian tennis federation website.
Apart from Cecchinato (World No. 18), Matteo Berrettini (No. 54), Simone Bolelli, Thomas Fabbiano and Andreas Seppi (No. 35) are the players in the Italian squad that will be reaching the city on Sunday.
“Even though Fognini isn’t there, the equation doesn’t change for us. They’ve got guys in the top 50, while we don’t have one guy in the top 100. So, I don’t think the equation really changes for us,” Bhupathi said.
However, he added that the current lot of Indian players don’t get overawed with their opponents’ rankings. “I think my boys are experienced enough, so the rankings — when Davis Cup comes into play — is not really a factor.
“They’ve all played at the highest level now. Both Ram (Ramkumar Ramanathan) and Prajnesh (Gunneswaran) have played Grand Slams and Tour events. So, it’s not like they would be intimidated.”