Leander Paes, Rohan Bopanna set to team up under Mahesh Bhupathi’s captaincy

Leander Paes (right) with Rohan Bopanna (Image Credit: News18.com)

Kolkata: After a 4-1 triumph over New Zealand, the Indian Davis Cup contingent now look to take on Uzbekistan in the Asia/Oceania Zone tie. The team however will feature a new non-playing captain in the form of Mahesh Bhupathi who will be eager for a successful start to his new venture.

Bhupathi thanked the administration and hoped to get off the mark with a win as non-playing captain for the team. “I look forward to a fruitful term as captain of the Davis Cup team, and count on strong support from the boys and the AITA” he said.

Meanwhile Indian doubles veteran Rohan Bopanna has made a comeback to the Indian squad for the upcoming Asia/Oceania second-round Davis Cup tie against Uzbekistan. The evergreen Leander Paes also made into the preliminary squad of six players.

The injured duo of Saketh Myneni and Sumit Nagal, were omitted from the side and have been replaced by two juniors in Dhruv Sunish and Nitin Kumar Sinha. They have been included in the practice squad to groom them for the future and gradually see their transition into the mainframe.

Besides Bopanna and Paes, the other players in the preliminary six man squad are Ramkumar Ramanathan, Yuki Bhambri, Prajnesh Gunneswaran and N Sriram Balaji. The final squad of four players will be selected two weeks before the tie, which starts on April 7 in Bengaluru.

It is an open secret that Paes and Bhupathi did not enjoy a cordial relationship during their playing days. Bopanna, who is closer to Bhupathi, also has had problems with Paes, most notably ahead of last year’s Rio Olympics when he had initially refused to team up with the veteran doubles star.

Putting aside the negativity of the past, the new non-playing captain Bhupathi said there are no differences between the two top doubles players of the country, Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes.

“Rohan and Leander have no differences, it’s all a media creation. I have spoken to both of them. They are both aware that there are six players and that neither of them might play. The fact that they are still willing to play is testimony to the fact that they have bought in to what we are trying to achieve to get back into the world group,” Bhupathi said.

The All India Tennis Association (AITA) secretary-general Hironmoy Chatterjee said, “Both Bopanna and Paes are top-ranked players. They have given their consent to play for the country. Since they are ready to play as a team, we have included them.”

Bhupathi also made it mandatory for every player to go through a rigorous fitness test before the game. The team shall be selected after the fitness test, to be held in Mumbai. Team coach Zeeshan Ali said that any player who is unfit to play shall not be considered. “The test is to ensure that no player is carrying an injury. But if someone gets injured in the camp or during the match, it’s a different matter,” he said, adding Saketh Myneni wasn’t included in the team as he was unfit.

“My decision on the final competing team for the weekend will be based on their performances over the next three weeks and their fitness levels during the week of the tie,” said Bhupathi.

With the fitness test and the young players being brought, the AITA and Bhupathi want to freshen up things in the Indian camp. They want athletes who can perform at the highest level and give it their all for the team during those enduring 5 setters. With a solid team India should look to win their tie against Uzbekistan. The partnership between Bopanna and Paes will be crucial as India’s key to success against the visitors will lie in a strong doubles pair.

(With inputs from Hindustan Times)



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