India’s Asia-Oceania Zone Group 1 Davis Cup tie against Pakistan will not be a “walk in the park,” said coach Zeeshan Ali.
Familiar with conditions in Pakistan, having played there many times in junior and satellite tournaments, Zeeshan refuses to take this tie lightly.
“We want to go to Pakistan with a full-strength team. We can’t afford to take any team lightly in Davis Cup. India know well enough what it is to be the underdog and we have pulled off some crazy wins in the past. So we don’t want to treat Pakistan as the underdogs,” he said.
With the current political scenario, security in Pakistan has been on the players’ mind.
“We have been reassured by the ITF (International Tennis Federation). They know that an India-Pakistan match is not just any other Davis Cup match. Their representatives have checked all areas — the venue, hotel, the routes that Indian players will have to take during their stay in Islamabad. They have given the green light and we are now satisfied. All our players are excited to go and are ready for the tie.”
India’s non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi, who had earlier voiced concerns about security, told The Telegraph on Thursday: “Yes, we did have worries as far as security was concerned. But now that the ITF and the All India Tennis Association (AITA) have given us assurance, we are ready to go.”
Bhupathi, however, did not want to make any further comments on India’s prospects in the tie, to be played on September 14-15.
AITA secretary-general, Hironmoy Chatterjee had earlier said the ITF had stringent security measures in place and every host nation had to abide by them. Bhupathi had written to the AITA voicing his concerns about security and Chatterjee said, following ITF clearance, they had assured the players of the security measures taken by Pakistan.
Given the fact that the tie will be played on grass and the top Indian players, especially Prajnesh Gunneswaran, don’t really prefer this surface, would that be a disadvantage?
“It is true that for most of our players grass is not the preferred surface. But the good thing is this time our players have played more on grass than in the past. If you recall, we were in Calcutta for 10 days ahead of the tie against Italy (February) to acclimatise ourselves on grass. Ramkumar Ramanathan, Prajnesh, Rohan Bopanna, Divij Sharan have all being playing tournaments on grass including Wimbledon qualifiers. Ramkumar played at Newport too after Wimbledon which again was played on grass. So I am happy with the amount of practise this team have had on grass,” Zeeshan, 49, said.
Pakistan, on paper, don’t really have a strong team, but Zeeshan said home advantage and new rules can work to their advantage. “Aqueel Khan and Aisam Qureshi, who have been carrying Pakistan on their shoulders for some time now, are two players we will have to look out for. Let’s not look at rankings now. In the new format it is no longer a best-of-five sets affair. In best-of-three, even if a player is not 100 per cent fit he can play well. Also, on grass, a break here and there can make a huge difference. It will not be a walk in the park for us. It will be a tough one. Away matches are always tough.”
Zeeshan mentioned 19-year-old Muzammil Murtaza: “This youngster has been playing in the American university circuit. That is a very competitive arena and that means he can also be a tough prospect if he plays us.”