The International Tennis Federation (ITF) is yet to confirm the venue for the Pakistan versus India Group 1 Davis Cup clash, but All India Tennis Association (AITA) has announced a team for the tie.
AITA’s selection committee met Thursday and have picked a list of eight players for the two-day event scheduled on November 29-30. Normally, teams pick a squad of five players and a reserve for a tie that includes four singles and one doubles rubber.
But the Indian federation has picked two more players to encourage lower ranked players who had made themselves available when it was expected to be held in Pakistan. Now though, those players were not in contention to make the squad of five as the top players are back in the team since the ITF shifted to tie to a neutral venue.
The squad of eight now includes singles players Sumit Nagal (ranked 127), Ramkumar Ramanathan (190), Sasikumar Mukund (250), Saketh Myneni (267) and Sidharth Rawat (517), along with doubles specialists Rohan Bopanna (38), Leander Paes (101) and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan (111). From this list however, Nagal, Ramkumar, Mukund and Bopanna had declined to play the tie should it have been held in Pakistan due to security concerns, while the remaining made themselves available to travel across the border.
“It’s a larger squad than we normally have, but the AITA took into consideration that some of the players had made themselves available even to go to Islamabad. We did not want to overlook their commitment to playing for the team, so they will be travelling at the AITA’s expense,” says Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali.
“Now we’re waiting for the ITF to inform us of the venue. At the moment, all these eight players will be travelling wherever the tie is held.”
On November 4, the ITF had declared that the tie would be shifted out of Islamabad and will instead be played at a neutral venue. The Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) meanwhile appealed against the verdict and the final decision about where the tie will be held is expected to be made on November 18.
“If it is Pakistan, then at that point in time the selection committee will again meet up and find out from the players as to who is available,” Ali says.
Earlier, when the tie was to be held in September, the AITA had announced a strong team of Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Ramkumar, Myneni, Bopanna and Divij Sharan along with Mukund as reserve player.
Once the Kashmir issue arose though, all except Myneni declined to travel to Pakistan. In place of the top ranked players, the AITA drew up another list of players who agreed to play if the tie was to take place in Islamabad – including Arjun Kadhe, N Sriram Balaji, Sidharth Rawat, Manish Suresh Kumar, Vijay Sunder Prashanth, and the 18-time Grand Slam winner Paes.
Preparatory camp in Delhi
It is learnt that the AITA plans on holding a preparatory camp in New Delhi ahead of the tie, and all the players who had made themselves available to play in Pakistan, even those who didn’t make the squad of eight, have been invited to attend. The tie also marks the return of Paes into the Davis Cup fold after Sharan, who along with Prajnesh, are unavailable for the tie due to family reasons.
The 46-year-old, who holds the world record of most number of doubles wins in Davis Cup – 43 – may potentially be paired up with Bopanna for the sole doubles rubber. The two stalwarts share an acrimonious relationship, but Ali is confident the pair has what it takes to form a formidable partnership. “At the end of the day, they are both professionals and they set aside their differences for the team,” he adds. “They have done it in the past against China (2018), South Korea (2016) and Serbia in Bangalore (2014).”