India set to pick A-team for Davis Cup tie with Pakistan

Shahid Judge
Mahesh Bhupathi. (Express Photo by Prashant Natkar/File)

The All India Tennis Association’s (AITA) selection committee is expected to name a ‘strong’ team for the upcoming Davis Cup tie against Pakistan. Following the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) decision to shift the tie to a neutral venue instead of Islamabad, the national federation will now use the larger field of players to select the five-man squad for the two-day event on November 29-30.

Before the ITF’s decision had come through, India’s top three singles players Prajnesh Gunneswaran (ranked 94), Sumit Nagal (129) and Ramkumar Ramanathan (199) had made themselves unavailable for the tie if it was held in Pakistan, along with top two doubles players Rohan Bopanna (39) and Divij Sharan (47). Subsequently, the AITA drew up a list of players who were willing to play the tie across the border – including veteran Leander Paes. However, now that the tie has been shifted outside Pakistan, the selection committee may potentially recall the players who had previously made themselves unavailable.

“We plan to go there with the best team possible,” Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali told The Indian Express. “I’ve spoken with the captain for this tie Rohit Rajpal, and we decided that no risks should be taken especially if we have a strong set of players available.”
For the upcoming tie, the AITA has appointed the selection committee chairman Rajpal as non-playing captain in place of regular skipper Mahesh Bhupathi.

READ | ‘Shocked’, says Rohan Bopanna after AITA replaces Mahesh Bhupathi as captain

Based on the past few ties the Indian team has competed in, the AITA has largely relied on the world rankings to select the team. Should that same formula be applied, it is likely that Nagal and Ramkumar will get a call up for the singles and Bopanna for doubles. Since Prajnesh and Sharan will remain unavailable for the tie due to personal reasons, based on the rankings, world No.248 Sasikumar Mukund and Paes (ranked 96 in doubles) may get a call-up in singles and doubles respectively.

The team however, will not be formed before November 10.

“Normally the ITF needs teams to announce their squad at least three weeks before the tie. They have allowed us some time because this happens to be an exceptional condition,” Ali said. “The Pakistan federation has till the end of this week to announce the new venue. So we will decide the team based on which country and what the surface will be.”

PTF appeal ITF decision

The Pakistan Tennis Federation on Wednesday wrote to the ITF on Wednesday appealing the world body’s decision to shift the upcoming Group 1 Asia/Oceania tie from Islamabad to a neutral venue.

“We think it's a very unreasonable decision and we have challenged it,” PTF president Salim Saifullah Khan told this paper. Khan further condemned the way the Indian federation’s hesitance to travel to Islamabad, and their subsequent correspondence with the ITF to push for a neutral venue.

“This was a window of opportunity for the two countries who are having many issues, somehow all these issues are made by politicians. This was a good opportunity to show that we are people of the same subcontinent and we share the same values and we are willing to play together,” Khan added. “The Indian team will be going to Nepal, the Pakistan team will be going there too for the South Asian Games (in December). It would have been a good gesture from India. It's unfortunate, that's all I can say.”