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India to play Japan in September for Davis Cup World Group spot

The draw for the Davis Cup World Group play-off ties were announced yesterday and while India avoided the dangerous Australians and Italians, they still face a tricky away encounter against long-time Asian rivals Japan in the 16th-18th September tie. The winner will qualify for the elite 16 nation World Group in 2012.

The Japanese are likely to choose a fast hardcourt surface (most likely indoors) for the tie and will be hoping to qualify for the elite World Group for the first time since 1985. Their chances look bright as the Japanese boast of 4 players in the top 200 world rankings. By contrast, India will rely heavily on 63rd ranked Somdev Devvarman. The next highest ranked Indian is Vishnu Vardhan, down at no. 320.

Assuming both are fit and available, the match between the top two ranked players, Kei Nishikori and Somdev Devvarman, will be the crucial one in determining the outcome of the tie. The two are good friends and also played doubles together at Wimbledon earlier this year.

21 year old Nishikori has been labelled a prodigious talent ever since he won his first ATP title in 2008 and is currently being coached by Bard Gilbert. After falling off the rankings due to surgery on his right elbow in August 2009, the Japanese player has risen back to the top 50 on the back of a runners-up finish in Houston and semi-finals in Delray Beach and Eastbourne in 2011.

On the other hand, Devvarman is having his most successful season yet, climbing from outside the top 100 in January to reaching no. 63 in the rankings last week. Both play a similar game, preferring to grind their opponents in a war of attrition from the back of the court but Nishikori does play a more powerful game than the Indian, which will hold him in good stead on the fast surface the Japanese choose.

Nishikori and Devvarman should be expected to win their singles matches against the respective no. 2 players of the opposing teams and India can be assured of the doubles point with the presence of Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna – all ranked in the world’s top 10 doubles rankings.

Should Nishikori win the crucial match against Devvarman, India might still have a chance to salvage the tie in the deciding fifth rubber between the no. 2 singles players of both nations.

Japan’s no. 2 Tatsuma Ito is a 23 year old ranked no. 110 in the world who has been mostly playing the ATP Challenger circuit. India’s no. 2 singles player is Vishnu Vardhan, ranked 320 but he is unlikely to get the calling with the Indians most likely to fall back on Rohan Bopanna as the second singles player.

Bofors, as he is nicknamed, is only a part time singles player and not even ranked among the top 500 in the world but his experience and big serve means he will have the advantage over Vardhan or the young but inconsistent Yuki Bhambri. Bopanna played a crucial role for the Indians in last year’s relegation playoff tie against Brazil where he beat world no. 75 Ricardo Mello in five sets in the deciding fifth rubber.

India have won 18 of their 21 Davis Cup ties against Japan (18 of their last 19) but in Nishikori, the Japanese might finally have the necessary ingredient to a wining formula.

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