Davis Cup: Underdogs India face a stern test against Korea
New Delhi: Thrust into action courtesy a controversy, it will be a test of nerves and skills for the Indian rookies when they take on South Korea in the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Group I tie, beginning here on Friday.
With only Leander Paes as the top player in the side, V M Ranjeet, Vijayant Malik and Purav Raja will make their Davis Cup debuts and they will have to play out of their skins to help India win the tie.
It`s the second consecutive tie, the build up of which has been marred by an needless controversy.
Earlier, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna were axed before the New Zealand tie in September last year, on grounds of indiscipline.
And now 11 top players, led by Somdev Devvarman, have been left out as the disgruntled players and the national federation could not reach a settlement in time.
India would have started as outright favourites at home with a full-strength team against the current team fielded by Korea but now the hosts would enter the contest as underdogs.
It will be interesting to see how Paes, who will be playing his 49th Davis Cup tie, anchors the side. He will be in action only on Saturday for the doubles but his role is much bigger on Friday and Sunday when the singles rubbers will be played.
There was a palpable change in the mood of the camp ever since Paes joined the team on Tuesday. It took just the presence of Paes to turn the mood from sombre to jovial.
And in Davis Cup, it`s completely different from the matches on the Tour. Playing for the nation is an incentive enough for the players to push themselves to limit.
It will be first assignment for Zeeshan Ali as India coach and last for S P Misra as non-playing captain and both of them would want a good result for obvious reasons.
The expectations from Ranjeet and Malik, ranked 517 and 541 respectively, would be to at least put up a decent fight and they would also be eager to prove a point after being labelled as members of a third-string team.
The players they will be encountering are Suk-Young Jeong, ranked 321 and Min-Hyeok Cho, who is not ranked in the ATP chart but has the experience of playing two Davis Cup ties.
Jeong has won two of the five singles that he has played so far in the Davis Cup, while Cho had battled well against Australia. If Ranjeet could tame Cho on the opening day, it will enhance India`s chances.
Min-Hyeok Cho has a good reputation back home and he`s a tough customer despite winning just one of the three Davis Cup matches. His two defeats have come against tough Australians -- Bernard Tomic and Marinko Matosevic.
Ji Sung Nam, the fourth player of the side, is yet to make his debut and he will play the doubles alongwith Yong-Kyu Lim.
Surprisingly, the Korean captain has chosen Lim for the doubles, despite the fact that he is experienced in playing singles rubber.
The Korean captain explained that Cho was in good touch and that is why they have chosen him for the singles and since Lim has experience, they wanted him to play in the doubles against a team which has a seasoned player in Paes.
The most comforting factor for India is the presence of Paes for the doubles. India can be assured of clinching the Saturday rubber when Paes and US-based Raja enters the court.
Paes has this history of producing results with even inexperienced players and the latest example was during London Olympics, where he and Vishnu Vardhan fought hard as a team.
And now he has a good partner in Raja, who is now ranked 161 and won three Futures titles apart from ending runners-up in other Challenger events, last season.
The courts at the R K Khanna tennis stadium are still slow and hanging in, retrieving the balls, would be crucial to the outcome of the matches.
Even Paes mentioned that since and he and Raja are both serve and volley players, they will have to adjust their game and play more from the baseline.
The winner of the tie will advance to the second round, slated for April 5 to 7.
The head-to-head record is 5-3 in the favour of Korea and the last time two sides clashed was back in 2006 when the visitors had won in Korea 4-1.