Can Leander’s Rebels Pull Off an Upset Against Czech Republic?

Yuki is the new India number 1 but Somdev is unbeaten at the DLTA & Leander is back for this Davis Cup tie.

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Sports
4 min read
Czech Davis Cup players Radek Stepanek, Adam Pavlasek, Lukas Rosol and Jiri Vesely and the Indian team members Leander Paes, Rohan Bopanna, Anand Amritraj, Yuki Bhambri and Somdev Devvarman. (Photo: PTI)

Think David vs Goliath.

And then look ahead to the Davis Cup World Group play-off between India and Czech Republic.

Simply put, India’s hosting two-time former Davis Cup Champions Czech Republic in New Delhi this weekend. Now while the visitors have come without their top ranked (read: world number 5) player Tomas Berdych, there is still many counts on which they hold the edge. A big edge.

To start with, the Czechs are ranked number one in the Davis Cup rankings while India is 20 spots behind at number 21. Add to that the simple fact that they have won two of the last three Davis Cup titles, and India will need to live up to all of their ‘dark horse’ billing to pull off a victory come Sunday.

So who’s in the hot-seat for India over the five rubbers? Here’s a lowdown on the playing members of the Indian contingent.

Yuki Bhambri during a practice session at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association Courts in New Delhi. (Photo: PTI)
Yuki Bhambri during a practice session at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association Courts in New Delhi. (Photo: PTI)

1. Yuki Bhambri, India’s New Number One

From making his Davis Cup debut in a dead rubber in 2009 against South Africa in place of Rohan Bopanna, to fighting Sanam Singh for a spot in the single’s matches, to winning the decisive rubber against New Zealand earlier this year — Yuki Bhambri’s career comes a full circle this weekend as he walks out on court as the India number one for the first time.

No more the little kid in the Indian camp, Yuki’s recent string of successes — including a victory in the Shanghai Challenger last week — now places him in the 125th spot in the ATP rankings, the highest among Indians.

I want to make a good start and put the Czechs under pressure. I can play freely at 0-0.
– Yuki Bhambri

The 23-year-old will kick off the tie on Friday with the first rubber against world number 85 Lukas Rosol.

Yuki Bhambri and Somdev Devvarman take a break to cool off during a practice session at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association Courts in New Delhi. (Photo: PTI)
Yuki Bhambri and Somdev Devvarman take a break to cool off during a practice session at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association Courts in New Delhi. (Photo: PTI)

2. Somdev Returns To Favourite Hunting Ground

Somdev Devvarman turned 30 this year. While his fitness continues to be the big ace up his sleeve, his defensive game still is coming in the way of any serious breakthroughs in his singles career.

Just this season, there have been 11 instances when the world number 164 failed get past the first round and four times when he could not go beyond the second round in the main draw matches, including the Challengers.

However, this is the Davis Cup. And the weekend’s fixture is at at DLTA. So forget what the above stats tell you.

Somdev Devvarman during a practice session at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association Courts in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Photo: PTI)
Somdev Devvarman during a practice session at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association Courts in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Photo: PTI)

The Indian ace is unbeaten at the RK Khanna Stadium since the 2010 Commonwealth Games when he won the gold and then went on to win two Delhi Open titles, the second coming this February.

He starts his campaign on Friday against the higher ranked of the two Czech singles players, Jiri Vesely. But to just add some extra spice to the rubber, the 40th ranked player has never won a live singles to date.

He is top-50. I don’t see him an inexperienced player by any means. It’s going be tricky. He is pretty solid.
— Somdev Devvarman

India’s Leander Paes, right, and Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic share a light moment before the draw ceremony on Thursday. (Photo: PTI)
India’s Leander Paes, right, and Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic share a light moment before the draw ceremony on Thursday. (Photo: PTI)

3. Leander Is Back

Three Grand Slam titles in 2015, at the age of 42 and all that tennis greatness will be on the Indian side of the net come the doubles rubber on Saturday afternoon.

Leander Paes gave the tie against New Zealand a miss a few months back but the fourth most successful player in the Davis Cup history with 89 wins, is back for this one and ready to face a familiar face across the net.

36-year-old Radek Stepanek leads the doubles challenge for the Czech and though he has a relatively inexperienced partner in world number 268 Adam Pavlasek, he may just be the one player who understands the Paes game best.

However, add an in-form Rohan Bopanna to the mix and India look set to sail through the Saturday fixture at least.

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