The World Group Play-off tie seems a classic David vs Goliath contest in which the Spaniards are not expected to be pushed much.
The tie, however, is a great opportunity for India’s singles players Saketh Myneni (4) and Ramkumar Ramanathan (1), who together have experience of playing just five ties in their fledgling Davis Cup careers, to not only test themselves against the best but also learn from them.
It is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Indian tennis fans to get to watch 14-time Grand Slam champion Nadal in action in a competitive match. After all, India do not have many ATP tournaments where stars like him, David Ferrer (world number 13), and French Open champions Feliciano Lopez (world number 26) and Marc Lopez (world number 15 in doubles) can come and play.
Now world number four Nadal has been pivotal in Spain’s four (2004, 2008, 2009 2011) of the five Davis Cup title wins and Ferrer too has played a significant role in three of those title triumphs (2008, 2009, 2011).
Together, all four Spanish players — Nadal (16), Ferrer (18), Feliciano Lopez (22) and Marc Lopez (9) — have an experience of 65 Davis Cup ties between them.
India’s singles players have just five with Ramkumar making his debut only two months back in Chandigarh against Korea. It will be baptism by fire for Sumit Nagal, if he gets a game, and India will look to Leander Paes, a veteran of 53 ties, to shepherd the inexperienced players.
While playing against such world class players, nobody will question the defeat but the manner in which the Indian players will fight it out will surely be watched.
The 28-year-old Myneni is coming to the tie after a good US Open where he qualified for the main draw and almost won his first round against Jiri Vesely. He possesses a solid serve and decent ground-strokes even as his fitness remains a concern. His body loses fluid very quickly, making him prone to cramps.
Ramkumar had promised a lot initially but has not taken off as expected. His trademark inside-out forehand is one of the best in the country but he needs to put together all aspects of the game to emerge winner.
Paes is just one win shy of becoming the most successful doubles players in the history of Davis Cup as he is tied with Italian great Nicola Pietrangeli on 42 doubles victory.
Although he and Rohan Bopanna do not gel well, the latter’s presence in this tie would have made India’s doubles combination better and would have given the veteran a good shot at the record he is eyeing. He is likely to with play Myneni if the Vizag lad remains good enough to compete in the doubles after Friday’s contest.
Despite not having a single player in top-100, India have established themselves as a force in the Asia zone and consistently reach the Play-off stage but to make the World Group and stay there, the side needs to find better singles players. Otherwise they will continue playing in Asia/Oceania zone only.
Spain are in the Europe/Africa Group after losing the World Group first round to Germany in 2014.
Ramkumar faces Nadal in opening tie
Ramkumar Ramanathan will start the proceedings for India when he takes on 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in the opening singles on day one of the David Cup World Group Play-off against Spain, starting here on Friday.
The second singles of the tie will be between Saketh Myneni and world number 13 David Ferrer, according to the draw announced by the International Tennis Federation on Thursday. On the second day, experienced Leander Paes will pair up with Saketh to face French Open champions Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez.
In the reverse singles, it will be Saketh’s turn to clash with Nadal, while Ramanathan will lock horns with Ferrer. “It’s going to be tough for everybody. It’s an important confrontation with both teams wanting to go to the World Group. May be we have better names and on ranking we’re higher but Indian team knows the conditions well so the home advantage will be with them,” said Nadal, adding, he has no preference and is happy to play on day one.
Asked how important is this tournament, considering he is coming back from injury, Nadal said: “It’s difficult to comeback but I think I did well. I had a good Olympics and then I competed well at the US Open.”
“Here we are excited about the tie, we are motivated to reach the World Group and that remains the only goal. I’m really excited to play one of the best players of all time. We have to keep the first few games close and play some aggressive tennis. I need to play with a lot of forehand and attack his forehand, play as deep as possible and of course serve well. I am ready to play my heart out,” Ramanathan said.