Taking themselves out of World Group II should not be a complicated task for India when they take on low-profile Morocco at home, which will be more of a celebration of Rohan Bopanna’s Davis Cup career, which will come to a halt after 21 years . on Sunday. The lack of singles players who could challenge the big boys of the ATP circuit, coupled with defeats in winnable matches, has hit the Indian Davis Cup team hard in this team tournament in recent years, but relegation to World Group II was a new low. the Indian team struck in February.
It was the first time since the launch of the new format in 2019 that the Indians dropped to this level.
A lot has changed since India last played in a Davis Cup match in March, when they lost 2-3 to Denmark.
Indian tennis had few memorable moments this season until Bopanna reached the US Open final last week.
It’s not just the lack of results on the court in singles; off the court, the country also felt the disappointment of losing its only ATP 250 event.
Yuki Bhambri, one of the best players India has seen, has retired from playing the singles format. Ramkumar Ramanathan has even disappeared from the top 550 and is languishing at number 570.
Such has been his fortunes this season that the Chennai player has made 17 first-round exits at various tournaments, including the lowest rung, the ITF Futures level.
Unsurprisingly, captain Rohit Rajpal has not included Ramkumar in the line-up, although he remains part of the squad to help train the players.
AT THE AGE OF 43, BOPANNA STILL PLAYS SOLID TENNIS
But Bopanna still plays solid doubles tennis.
At 43 years old, he is still one of the most powerful servers on the circuit. His strokes still have a sting, and he can still hit those stunning passing winners from difficult angles or while running on the flanks.
It would have been ideal if he had gotten his farewell tie where he wanted – in Bengaluru – but he still has the chance to say goodbye to the Davis Cup in front of the home fans.
In the 32 matches since his debut in 2002, the Coorg player has won 22 matches, including 10 singles matches.
He will team up with Yuki for the final time in the Davis Cup, even as he continues to play on the ATP circuit. Ranked in the top 10, he has no reason to hang up his racket.
The AITA congratulated Bopanna on Thursday evening at a special event where his contribution to Indian tennis was lauded. Bopanna will have many friends and relatives in the stands, which seat about 1,300 people.
Ideally, as Bopanna requested, his farewell tie should have taken place in Benglauru, which has much better infrastructure and can accommodate 6,500 spectators.
SUMIT NAGAL IN GOOD TOUCH
India’s number one singles player Sumit Nagal is in good form. He comes into the tie after playing in the final of a Challenger event in Austria. It was his third final of the season at that level. Unless there is an inexplicable meltdown, he would win two points for India.
Sasi Mukund can finally make his debut. He was even included in the team for the match against Pakistan in 2019 but withdrew saying he had suffered a foot injury.
Digvijay Pratap Singh has also made it, and he may play a dead rubber.
Hot and humid conditions will pose a serious fitness test for both teams. Although the timings have been revised and the start of the matches has been postponed by two hours, it will still be an uphill task to negate the energy-sapping conditions.
Morocco has only one worthy challenger for the Indian singles players, Elliot Benchetrit.
The 6-foot-2, 24-year-old player may rank at just 465 on the ATP charts, but in February 2020 he reached a career-high of 198.
Benchetrit has cherished victories against top 100 players, including one against a top 50 player, and has also competed on the biggest stage: the Grand Slams.
Of the two Indian singles players, Mukund has played and beaten him. They clashed in the Forli Challenger in January 2022, where the Indian emerged victorious in straight sets.
If there will be any competition, it will be against Benchetrit, who qualified for the US Open in 2019 and the Australian Open in 2020, beating quality players like Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland. He had entered the French Open as a wild card in 2018 and defeated Frenchman Gael Monfils before losing the opening round.
The visiting team’s second singles player is 20-year-old Yassine Dlimi, number 557. He is still active on the ITF Futures circuit.
Adam Moundir is further behind with 779, and the remaining two players – Walid Ahouda and Younes Lalami Laaroussi – are not even in the top-1000.
Given the weak opponents, winning this tie won’t be a big challenge for India, but charting a roadmap for the future will be.
SERIOUS SOUL SEARCH REQUIRED
Captain Rajpal and AITA officials need to sit down and discuss what is wrong with the system that India does not have a single top-100 singles player and the team is now battling it out in World Group II.
There are many questions that need answers and some serious soul searching.
Unless India has good singles players, the country will not excel in the Davis Cup or Grand Slams.
Tennis remains an individual and professional sport, but it is time for AITA to come up with something special to prevent the game from sinking to a new low.
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