Hillerod (Denmark), Feb 2 (PTI): It will be a Herculean task for the Indian Davis Cup team to save its place in World Group I when it clashes with the Holger Rune-led Denmark in the Davis Cup Play-off tie, starting Friday.
India does not have even one player inside the top-300 while world No. 9 Rune will make the hosts firm favourites to stay in World Group I. The tie will be played indoors on hard courts.
India had blanked Denmark 4-0 in Delhi in March 2022 but the presence of 19-year-old Rune, who reached the fourth round at the Australian Open last month and won three ATP titles in 2022, makes it a very different proposition.
However, India have come out with a nice strategy to counter Rune’s presence and are targetting lower-ranked players in the Denmark camp — August Holmgren (ranked 484) and Elmer Moeller (ranked 718) — to emerge victorious.
The team has decided to field Yuki Bhambri on day one as the country’s second-highest ranked player so that Sumit Nagal can go in as the number one player and strive to eke out a win on the opening day.
Holmgren might be ranked low but he is a tough nut to crack. He has been an NCAA champion in the past and will pose a strong challenge to the Indian team.
The doubles match will assume significance and seasoned Rohan Bopanna will have to use his experience to lead the side.
Ever since the new format was introduced in 2019, the Indian team has managed to stay in World Group I but the team will have to work hard to keep its place.
There are three singles players in the playing squad — Prajnesh Gunneswaran (306), Ramkumar Ramanathan (412) and Sumit Nagal (509) — while Sasi Kumar Mukund has been left out.
But it’s not a surprise that captain Rohit Rajpal has decided to play Bhambri. He has quit the singles format on the ATP Tour but still is such a good player on indoor courts (where external factors like wind do not count) that it is difficult to ignore him.
Yuki will open the tie with the match against Rune while Nagal will play against Holmgren.
The newly-laid indoor court is a bit slow and is offering waist-height bounce. According to captain Rajpal and coach Zeeshan Ali, Nagal is looking the sharpest on the Indian side.
Nagal also looked in good form in Pune where he went down fighting.
“The waist-height bounce won’t help us like the grass courts, the lower it is, better it is for us. But still it is better than those high-bounce courts. It suits them more and that’s why they have prepared such court where the home players can strike big,” captain Rajpal told PTI.
“This tie we have 50-50 chance and I am looking for at least a 1-1 score on day one. Hope Yuki can produce something special.”
Coach Zeeshan explained the strategy.
“We wanted Sumit to play as our number one player so that he can play Denmark’s second singles player on day one. The rankings of our players are such that it was possible only if Yuki or Rohan played as the second singles player, so it was Yuki,” he said.
“We have played defensive in previous ties where we played against top players and it did not work. We had to do something different.”
The team management admitted that the side is feeling the pressure going into the tie without having a single top-300 player.
On day two, Bopanna and Yuki will play the doubles against Johannes Ingildsen and Christien Sigsgaard. However the hosts can also field Rune if required on day two.