international tennis

Davis Cup: Can India pull off an upset against a hobbling Canada in the World Group Play-offs?

The hosts may be led by the talented Denis Shapovalov, but India’s singles players are no slouches against strong opponents.

India’s road to the 2018 Davis Cup World Group looked to be blocked yet again when the World Group Play-offs draw revealed that the three-time former finalists were to face Canada in an away tie in Edmonton.

Speculated as it was in April that Milos Raonic would be leading the Canadian team, the former world No 4’s lay-off from the Tour because of a wrist injury and subsequent surgery is fortuitous for the visitors. That being said, the advent of Denis Shapovalov, the trailblazing 18-year-old who turned heads in his corner after exploits at the Montreal Masters and the US Open looks to have given the hosts a window of opportunity. However, the balance of the match-up isn’t entirely skewed in favour of the Canadians as much as it was expected to be previously.

Here’s a quick remapping of how the Indian team stands ahead of their tie:

Strengths:

While Shapovalov’s good form has bolstered Canada’s ranks, the Indian campaign has also been fortified by the consistency of their two singles players – Ramkumar Ramanathan and Yuki Bhambri.

Both Ramanathan and Bhambri had a good run in the US Open series, with the former making an appearance in the singles main draw at the Cincinnati Masters and the latter reaching the quarter-finals of the Citi Open in Washington. More importantly, Ramanathan even reached the second round of the US Open qualifiers, before losing a narrow three-setter to Nicolas Mahut.

The takeaway is that India’s two singles players are more than capable of posing a stiff challenge to higher-ranked opponents, even those who’ve risen up the rankings as sharply as Shapovalov.

It also stands to help India that the hosts had to make yet another change to their team nomination in singles. Davis Cup debutant Brayden Schnur has been roped in for the singles rubbers in place of Vasek Pospisil, who is still recovering from the back injury that had forced him to withdraw in the US Open first round.

With Ramanathan taking on Schnur in the first singles rubber, India can count on a positive start to begin their all-important weekend before the awaited clash between Bhambri and Shapovalov.

Weaknesses:

On the face of it, the Indian line-up looks complete, not just in terms of the players but also in terms of getting the necessary preparatory time. However, the team has made one significant last-minute change to the doubles personnel. Purav Raja will partner Rohan Bopanna, because of injury and fitness concerns to Saketh Myneni and N Sriram Balaji.

Myneni’s exclusion, due to his recovery from injury, is understandable. However, given that Balaji missed out on playing the tie because of a sudden ankle injury, this may be an eventuality that has slightly displaced Mahesh Bhupathi’s well-crafted plans. After all, it was Balaji and Bopanna who had teamed up to help India make it to the World Group Play-offs with a win over Uzbekistan in April.

By no means is this the end of the the road for India for the doubles rubber. However, when compared to the Canadian duo of Daniel Nestor and Pospisil who have played together on several occasions in the past and know each other well, Bopanna and Rajava’s inexperience could prove to be a determining factor.

Opportunities and threats

The obvious and biggest opportunity for India in the tie is that it can re-enter the World Group after seven years. But, herein also lies the team’s biggest threat. For the first time in all their previous attempts of World Group qualification in the last four years, India will have to win an away tie to claim its rightful place in the 16-team draw.

Given that crowd support plays an intrinsic part of Davis Cup ties, the visitors will need to remain unfazed not only by their opponents, but also by the partisan crowd support. More so, since the tie will be played indoors at the Northlands Coliseum which will amplify the ambience further.

To the team’s credit, they have displayed a dogged determination in leaving no stone unturned in wanting to end their World Group drought decisively. The draw may then look promising, but for the players it’s about ensuring that this promise lasts until the final day’s place.

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