‘Doubles could decide the outcome of tie against Finland,’ says India’s Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali

India will take on Finland in the World Group I tie that will be played in Espoo this weekend
By Deepti Patwardhan

Doubles has been the traditional stronghold for India in Davis Cup, the premier men’s team competition. And the third rubber may once again save or sink India when they take on Finland in the World Group I tie in Espoo on September 17-18, 2021.

While Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori, ranked 66 in the world, is the only player in the singles top-100 in the tie, the doubles teams are more evenly matched. India’s Rohan Bopanna (ranked 44) and Divij Sharan (86) are slated to take on World No 46 Henri Kontinen and World No 76 Harri Heliovaara in the only doubles match of the tie on Saturday.

“Rohan and Divij are seasoned doubles players and have also been playing a lot of tournaments leading up to the tie,” India’s Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali told Olympics.com

“Both of them also played some tournaments together this summer so I'm happy about that. Doubles will be a very important match and could decide the outcome of this tie depending on how the first days results are.”

India’s top-ranked player Prajnesh Gunneswaran (165) and Ramkumar Ramanathan (187) will spearhead the visitors’ challenge in singles. The Indian team also has the option of playing Saketh Myneni if required. However, India will be missing the services of their No 2 player Sumit Nagal, who opted out of the tie due to injury concerns. Nagal informed the Davis Cup selection committee that doctors had advised him against playing on hard-courts.

He did, however, play an event on the pro tour this week. Nagal competed in the ATP Challenger event in Szczecin, Poland on clay. He went down in the first round to Stefano Travaglia.

“At this point all the three singles players are ready to play. All options are open at this point. I'm glad Saketh was available for this tie as he has a big game and has the experience of having played some big matches for India in the past,” added Ali, a former Davis Cup player.

“Ram is coming off a good tournament in France last week where he reached the quarters of the singles and won the doubles. So he is obviously playing sharp and Prajnesh has also been playing a lot of matches the last few weeks. So in terms of preparation, all our players have had a good amount of tournaments leading up the tie and that's the best kind of preparation that one can have.

"Not having Sumit or even Sasi Kumar who chose to play tournaments this week instead of Davis Cup has been very disappointing. Finland have a better ranked player for their first singles but our second player (Otto Virtanen, ranked 419) is ranked higher than theirs. So it pretty even.”

The Davis Cup underwent an overhaul in 2019, and the matches are now played in best-of-three, rather than best-of-five format. It has been shortened to a two-day event, with two singles on Day 1 and the doubles rubber and reverse singles on Day 2.

Finland will have the home-court advantage as they host India on the indoor courts of Espoo Metro Areena.

“We got the match court from Tuesday onwards which has been the latest we have received the match court in any Davis Cup tie,” said Ali, 51.

“It's an indoor Rebound Ace surface specially made for the Finnish teams liking. Our players were quite comfortable on it today and hopefully will adapt to it better in the next couple of days. The quality of tennis played indoors is about 25-30% better in terms of quality as there is no outside factors involved. No sun or wind improves the level of play. Our players are quite comfortable playing indoors. All of the players these days are professionals and adapt to new conditions quickly.”

This is the first Davis Cup tie India are playing since the outbreak of Coronavirus last year. The team has been kept in a bubble and are only allowed to go back-and-forth between the courts and the hotel.

“We're having to order our dinner in. Temperature checks are being done every morning and interaction with anyone outside of the bubble is not allowed,” the Indian coach added.

The winner of the tie between India and Finland will progress to the World Group Qualifiers, which is a step away from the 18-team Davis Cup Finals.