The rebels are returning to the fold, at least for now. The temporary truce between the caravan of rebels and AITA has allowed the apex body for tennis in India to name Yuki Bhambri (257), Somdev Devvarman (354) and Sanam Singh (297) alongside the veteran warrior Leander Paes to the team that is going to face Indonesia in the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Zone Group I relegation play-off. The first round tie will be played in Bangalore between the 5th and 7th of April. The selection of a full strength team, despite the notable absence of Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna, marks a step forward for the game in India.
The players and administrators have been caught up in an ugly muddle since the lead-up to the London Olympics, concerning issues around player payments and team selection. The matter came to a head earlier this year when the full complement of players, with the exception of Paes, stood up to the AITA, forcing the hand of the selection committee to field a hastily arranged collection of players for the Asia/Oceania Group I first round tie against South Korea. The team fell to a bruising 1-4 defeat at the hands of the young Korean team in New Delhi.
The selection committee also named Vijayant Malik and N Sriram Balaji as the reserves. Ram Kumar Ramnathan, who won the recently concluded National Championships in Kolkata, has been invited to practice with the team. Shiv Prakash Misra, who the eleven rebels wanted replaced, remains the captain of the team while Zeeshan Ali has been retained as the coach. In doing so, the sports body is making it clear to the rebels that they might negotiate all they want but that selection shall remain the preserve of the administrators.
India has a strong history against the Indonesians, having won each of their five previous encounters. However, the last time the two teams met was way back in 1992 on clay in the Gelora Senayan sports club in Jakarta . The Acrylic Hard surface at the KSLTA Tennis Stadium in Bengaluru is going to suit the playing styles of Somdev and Yuki, while the combination of Leander and Sanam is an almost certain lock-on for a point from the doubles rubber, provided that they remain fit for the tie.
Bhambri, who made his Davis Cup debut in 2009, has made a 4-1 start to his Cup career and the two victories over the visiting Kiwis in September last year will be fresh in the memories of the growing band of fans around the country. Somdev has been a far more regular part of the team since his first tie in 2008, but the gritty player has only managed to win 6 of the 14 singles matches he has played for the country. Sanam is still wet behind the ears, so far as Davis Cup is concerned – the Chandigarh lad has a 1-1 record, including that 6-4, 6-1 victory over Artem Sitak last year playing in front of his home crowd.
The main reservoir of experience will once again be the indefatigable Paes, who will be donning national colours for the 50th time in his illustrious Davis Cup career. Paes has an impressive 87-32 record in Cup play – 48-22 in singles and 39-10 in doubles. In fact, Leander had started his Cup career with an incredibly gutsy 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 18-16 victory over the visiting Japanese in the summer of 1990. Paes is only three victories from emulating the all-time record of the Italian Nicola Pietrangeli, who has 42 doubles victories to his name. With age catching up, Leander will be keen to get there quickly enough even as India seek to avoid the relegation blues.Published 23 Feb 2013, 16:23 IST