It should not be a complicated task for India to haul itself up from World Group II when they take on an unostentatious Morocco in the home tie. The tie will be more of a celebration of Rohan Bopanna’s Davis Cup career, which will come to a halt after 21 years on Sunday.
The lack of singles players who could challenge the big boys of the ATP circuit, coupled with defeats in easy matches, has hurt the Indian Davis Cup team badly in the last few years in this team tournament, but relegation to World Group II was a new low which the Indian team hit in February.
It was for the first time since the new format was launched in 2019 that the Indians dropped to this level.
Much has changed since India last played in the Davis Cup tie in March, when they lost 2-3 to Denmark.
Indian tennis has hardly had any memorable moments this season until Bopanna reached the US Open final last week.
It’s not just the lack of on-court results in singles; off-court, the country also felt the disappointment of losing its only ATP 250 event.
Yuki Bhambri, one of India’s finest players, has stopped playing the singles format. Ramkumar Ramanathan has dropped out of even the top-550 and is languishing at number 570.
Such has been his plight this season that the Chennai player has made 17 first-round exits at different tournaments, including the lowest rung, the ITF Futures level. It’s not surprising that skipper Rohit Rajpal has not included Ramkumar in the line-up, though he remains a part of the squad to help train the players.
But Bopanna is still playing some solid tennis in the doubles format.
At 43, he remains one of the most powerful servers on the circuit. His strokes still have sting, and he can still pull off those stunning passing winners from difficult angles or while running on flanks.
It would have been ideal if he had got his farewell tie where he wanted — in Bangalore — but he still has a chance to bid adieu to the Davis Cup before the home fans.
In 32 ties played since making his debut in 2002, the player from Coorg has won 22 matches, including 10 singles.
He will team up with Yuki for one final time in the Davis Cup, even as he continues to play on the ATP circuit.
The AITA felicitated Bopanna in a special event on Thursday night, where his contribution to Indian tennis was lauded.
Nagal in good touch
India’s No. 1 singles player, Sumit Nagal, is in good form. He is entering the tie after playing the final of a Challenger event in Austria. It was his third final of the season at that level. Unless there is an inexplicable meltdown, he would win two points for India.
Sasi Mukund will finally get to make his debut. He was named in the team even for the tie against Pakistan back in 2019 but pulled out, saying he had suffered a foot injury.
Digvijay Pratap Singh has also made the cut, and he might get to play a dead rubber.
The hot and humid conditions will pose a serious fitness test for both teams. The start of the matches has been delayed by two hours but it will still be a tough task to battle the energy-sapping conditions.
Morocco has only one worthy challenger for India’s singles players, Elliot Benchetrit, but the visitors have decided not to play him on the opening day due to an unrevealed injury that he has just recovered from.
The 24-year-old player might be ranked just 465 on the ATP singles chart as of Friday, but he touched a career-high 198 in February 2020.
Benchetrit has cherished wins against top-100 players, including one against a top-50 player, and has competed at the biggest stage — the Grand Slams — too.
However, he has been nominated to play only the doubles alongside Yones Lalami Laaroussi. The nominations can be changed an hour before the scheduled start.
If it turns out to be just a strategy to throw off the Indian team’s preparations and Benchetrit plays on the opening day, there will be some fight.
Benchetrit had qualified for the US Open in 2019 and the Australian Open in 2020, beating quality players such as Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland on the way. He had entered the French Open as a wild card in 2018 and took a set off Frenchman Gael Monfils before losing the opening round.
The visiting team’s No. 1 singles player is nthe 20-year-old Yassine Dlimi, ranked 557. He is still plying his trade on the ITF Futures circuit.
So the two debutants will open the tie with Dlimi taking on Sasi Mukund. Adam Moundir, ranked 779, will play the second singles against India’s No. 1 Nagal. Given the weak opponents, winning this tie won’t be much of a challenge for India but chalking out a roadmap for the future will be.
Captain Rajpal and AITA officials need to sit and discuss what is wrong with the system that India does not have a single top-100 singles player, and the team is now fighting it out in World Group II.
There are a lot of questions that need answers and some serious soul-searching. Unless India have quality singles players, the country will not excel either in Davis Cup or grand slams.