India not missing Paes: Bhupathi
Kolkata: India’s non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi on Wednesday said the absence of his longstanding doubles partner Leander Paes won’t be felt in the latter’s own backyard when India take on Italy in a Davis Cup World Group qualifiers tie at the Calcutta South Club here on Saturday.
Paes, who became the most successful doubles player in the history of Davis Cup with a record 43 wins, was dropped from the squad with the new selection committee, led by Rohit Rajpal, saying they went largely by the rankings.
Asked if India would be at a disadvantage sans Paes in his own backyard, Bhupathi dismissed it: “No, it’s not.”
Bhupathi said it’s a captain’s ‘dream’ to have left-hander Prajnesh Gunneswaran in the side as it helps in the team balance.
Prajnesh, who is the country’s highest ranked singles player, will spearhead India’s challenge against the higher-ranked Italians led by World No.18 Marco Cecchinato, who upset Novak Djokovic in the French Open quarterfinals last year.
The 29-year-old Prajnesh, who started 2018 as World no.243 and ended it as No.104, won two ATP Challenger titles and also upset now World No.27 Denis Shapovalov on grass at the Stuttgart Open last year.
“Prajnesh has got a big serve, big forehand, and he’s a left hander. I think it’s the captain’s dream to have that kind of variation in your side,” Bhupathi said at the pre-draw press conference here.
Bhupathi drew a parallel with cricket.
“In cricket, the opening pair wants to go left and right. And on day one I’m going left right. I think it’s a great variation to have.
“And for me it’s even a bigger bonus that Prjnesh is now almost near top-100 in the world. So he’s obviously brimming with confidence.”
Contrary to widespread criticism over the new format, Bhupathi said the shortened arrangement would give India an edge over Italy who are ranked 10th, nine places above the hosts.
“When you’re trying to beat players who are better than you it’s always easier to do it in two sets rather than three out of five. So, when it comes to playing big teams, who are constantly in the world group, I think this change in format is great for the Indian team,” he said.
Bhupathi predicted that India would have Prajnesh, Ramkumar Ramanathan and indisposed Yuki Bhambri inside the top-100 by the end of this year.
“I think all of them between 65 and 70, honestly. I mean, we all know that Yuki, if he stays healthy, he has that in him.
“Prajnesh literally has nothing to defend till end of March so there’s only one way to go up for him and Ram is up and down, he can lose 10 first rounds in a row and all of a sudden he’s in the final Tour event. So you know, he’s a bit of a wild card but you know that’s the dream scenario.
Bhupathi was also asked about the Italians practicing at the central court with a combination of what seemed like Marco Cecchinato and Andreas Seppi ahead of the spirited Matteo Berrettini.
“That may be the pattern on day one. But we are not ruling out any surprises,” he said of world number 53 Berrettini who had beaten the top-ranked Indian in Chengdu ATP in China last year.