Paes dropped from Davis Cup squad, 27-year run halted
Long-serving Leander Paes was today dropped for the first time in 27 years from India's Davis Cup squad as non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi picked Rohan Bopanna instead for the tie against Uzbekistan.
The Asia/Oceania Zone Group I tie begins here tomorrow.
Bopanna will pair up with Sriram Balaji in the second round doubles tie and lock horns with Farrukh Dustov and Sanjar Fayziev at the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association.
Bopanna is ranked 24th in the world, 29 spots above Olympic medallist and multiple Grand Slam winner Paes (53rd).
Ramkumar Ramanathan will spearhead India's singles challenge in place of injured Yuki Bhambri. Ramanathan will face Temur Ismailov in the first singles rubber tomorrow.
Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who replaced the injured Bhambri, will take on Fayziev in the second singles rubber.
In the reverse singles on Sunday, Ramanathan could face Fayziev and Gunneswaran will be playing the final rubber against Ismailov.
Justifying his decision to pick Bopanna over Paes, Bhupathi said the Bengaluru lad is serving and seeing the ball well and also had a good start to the year.
"Yeah, like I said the conditions obviously are very quick here. Rohan is serving well... That was the basis of the decision," Bhupathi said.
Paes, who made his Davis Cup debut against Japan in 1990 at Jaipur, has been dropped from the Davis Cup team on form - or the lack of it - for the first time in nearly three decades.
Over the last couple of Davis Cup ties involving India, the focus has had been centered around Paes going past Nicola Pietrangeli's record of 42 doubles rubbers' wins.
Bhupathi said it was a tough decision to drop his one-time doubles partner.
"It was tough and that is why the last-minute decision. I was clear from the start that I wanted to go with three singles options only because the couple of boys have never played under Davis Cup stress situation, so going in with two (doubles) specialists was going to be a high-risk situation," he said.
Bhupathi said the other players in the team had practised more than Paes.
"I think these boys have been here since Sunday, and we were able to play a lot of sets with Rohan and Bala. They played three sets everyday. Leander, unfortunately, came only yesterday and he played three games and it started raining.
So, there wasn't Davis Cup doubles highest stress situations," he said.
Asked if Paes stood a chance had he joined earlier, Bhupathi said, "If I had the full team by Sunday and Monday, I would have had more time probably to make a dedicated decision."
When asked if it was end of the road for Paes, Bhupathi responded in the negative.
"Not at all, I made it clear to everyone involved, including Leander, that this is by no means the end of the road. His being in the team is invaluable, the experience, the energy he brings to Davis Cup ...," he said.
Bhupathi said he is not a big believer of having doubles specialists in the Davis Cup team unless they are among the top five in the world.
Asked about his bonding with Balaji, Bopanna said it is better to play with a player with whom he has practised.
"Three or four days of practise with a partner will give a better chance than playing with somebody just for one single day. That is what helps you trust your partner," he said.
Bhupathi sounded optimistic about India's chances.
"Conditions here are very fast. We are going into the tie with four very big servers. We are trying to take advantage of the preparations. Obviously, we have been practising for some days so we are used to the conditions," he said.
Asked whether Denis Istomin's absence would be advantageous for India, Bhupathi said it is a big blow for Uzbekistan.
"For them losing Denis is a bigger blow than we losing Yuki because we have got good depth in our team, and we had asked for conditions which would suite the serving ability of our team," he said.
Bhupathi said every captain has his own style and wants to run the team the way he thinks it should be.
About India's chances of getting into the world group, Bhupathi said, "I don't know. This is my first tie, so give me a few days and see how the boys play. Obviously, it all depends on the draw. We are taking on Argentina in Argentina.
So it is going to take a little longer," he said.