India’s upcoming Davis Cup tie against Pakistan is now likely to be held in Nur-Sultan, the capital city of Kazakhstan. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) had declared on November 4 that the venue for the match slated to be held in Islamabad would now be shifted to a neutral venue. The Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) appealed against the decision, but the world body is now poised to shift the tie anyway.
“The ITF has not confirmed it yet, but it seems most likely that it will take place in Astana (Nur-Sultan) in Kazakhstan,” All India Tennis Association (AITA) secretary general Hironmoy Chatterjee told The Indian Express.
“The ITF hasn’t made the announcement yet, but they wrote to us today and told us to start the visa process for Kazakhstan for our players. They also sent us a list of hotels.”
The tie had initially been scheduled for September in Islamabad, but due to security concerns, the Indian federation wrote to the ITF asking for the tie to be either shifted to a neutral venue or be delayed by two months. Subsequently, the tie was rescheduled for November 29-30.
The AITA again approached the ITF to move the tie to a neutral venue in October, and the world body agreed. In turn, the Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) made an appeal against the decision, and the ITF was expected to take the final call late on Monday. But since the world body has reached out to the AITA, the Indian body is expecting the venue to be shifted to outside Pakistan.
“The fact that they’ve told us to start the visa process and given us hotel information means it’s most likely the tie will be moved to Kazakhstan. So we have started the visa process,” Chatterjee added. “It’ll probably be played on indoor hard courts since it’s very cold right now. It’s supposed to be around -10 degrees Celsius right now.”
The shift in venue, though yet to be confirmed, all but rules out a first Indian Davis Cup team visit across the border in 55 years.
Since then, the Indian team was scheduled to play in Pakistan back in 1973 as well, but the tie was shifted to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia since it was in the aftermath of the 1971 Indo-Pak War. Later on, the Pakistan team travelled to Mumbai to compete in the event in 2006.
Shifting the venue for this tie though ensures the availability of India's top players for the competition. Sumit Nagal, Ramkumar Ramanathan, Sasikumar Mukund, Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan had previously made themselves unavailable should the tie be played in Pakistan due to security concerns. Prajnesh and Sharan continue to remain unavailable due to family reasons.
Last week, the AITA announced an eight-man team for the tie that includes Nagal, Ramkumar, Mukund, Saketh Myneni, Sidharth Rawat, Bopanna, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan and veteran Leander Paes. On Monday though, it was confirmed that Bopanna had to pull out of the tie due to a shoulder injury.
“The way it stands, we will continue to take only the seven players that we had named for the squad and not add anymore,” said Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali.
“It’s late in the year and injuries often come up with players. So it was crucial that we had Jeevan and Leander in the team as specialist doubles. We also have Saketh, who can play doubles, and Ramkumar has just won two back-to-back doubles Challenger titles.”
The Pakistan team in turn, should the tie be held in Kazakhstan, is expected to travel without their most experienced players Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and Aqeel Khan who have decided to boycott the tie as a mark of protest against the ITF’s decision to shift the matches outside Pakistan.
For the Indian players though, the biggest concern now is the weather.
“The winter months are coming and we’ve heard it can touch minus 10 in Kazakhstan,” Ali added.
“Those are difficult conditions but our players are professional and have been on tour for so long. The main concern for them was the safety concern, which if it does happen in Kazakhstan, will not be a problem.”