News & Press

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A lot depends on opening game: Leander Paes

Mumbai: On the eve of India's Davis Cup encounter against hosts Chinese Taipei, Leander Paes is extremely upbeat about making it through to the next round.

The eight-time Grand Slam champion, who appears only in doubles these days, said the weather, conditions and surface, though vastly different than in India, would actually be "conducive" to our chances in the Group I Asia-Oceania Zone tie.

"It's lovely out here," a cheerful Leander told DNA from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, where the team is based for the rubber. "It's bright sunshine... The temperature is around 24 degrees in the morning, though it can get a little hotter in the middle... But the conditions are just right for tennis."

The opening game will see Somdev Devvarman (world rank 150) take on Ti Chen (world No.365) at the Yang-Ming Tennis Centre. From administrators to former Davis Cup captains and for Leander himself, the importance of the opener cannot be overstated. For India to have any hopes of setting up a date with either Australia or Thailand in Round III, they must kick off with a win on Friday.

Chinese Taipei rely heavily on Yen-Hsun Lu, world number 59 and their best player who's hit some terrific form of late, having defeated David Nalbandian in the Australian Open and Lleyton Hewitt in Delray Beach this year. Lu will take on India No.2 Rohan Bopanna in Friday's second singles. Though Bopanna has beaten Lu in the past, it would be a different ball game this time.

"Look, for several years now our strategy has been to win at least two singles among the four... There is no reason why Bopanna can't repeat his feat but even if Lu wins both matches, that leaves us with two more and, of course, doubles is our strength," said Leander.

"Though the surface and crowd support matter a lot and would be against us, I am quite confident of our chances," he said. On Saturday, Leander and Mahesh Bhupathi will join forces against Tsung-Hua Yang and Chu-Huan Yi in the doubles. In the reverse singles on Sunday, Lu will play Devvarman while Chen faces Bopanna.

Former Davis Cup captain Naresh Kumar also felt that the opener would be the decisive factor. "The teams are extremely well-matched. By omitting Lu in the doubles, it would appear that Chinese Taipei are realistic about their chances in doubles and want to keep Lu fresh for the reverse singles. "It'll be a dogfight and an open tie," said Kumar. He didn't think Bopanna's past record against Lu would matter much.

"Though Bopanna plays above his rankings in Davis Cup, he hasn't been playing too many singles in the recent past. It'll be tough for him," said Kumar.

The former captain felt SP Misra's role will be crucial. "The non-playing captain isn't just a manager... He is much, much more. He has to ensure the players get the right kind of diet... That they get the chance to talk to their families back home."

"It's a team effort and if India are to advance, everyone has to pull in the right direction," he said.

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