'It's going to be a tough tie for India'
It is David versus Goliath, literally!
We are referring to the Davis Cup first round tie in Belgrade, where India takes on holders Serbia.
It is a match-up between two sides with contrasting fortunes.
Serbia, as mentioned, are the defending champions, having defeated nine-time winners France in the final last December. Considering the fact that the Balkan nation made its debut in the team event only in 1995, it was definitely a fairytale success.
India, on the other hand, has had a difficult time in the competition of late. The three-time finalists made a return to the World group last year -- following a 11-year absence -- only to lose to Russia in the opening.
However, a come-from-behind 3-2 win over Brazil in the play-off in Chennai last September -- the first time ever that India had come back from 0-2 down -- reassured them of a place in the elite group.
The fact that they face the holders is good enough an indicator that they should start preparing for the play-offs again. At least, one member of the Serbian team believes the same.
"I am sure it's going to be a tough tie for India," Janko Tipsarevic told this correspondent on the sidelines of the Chennai Open in January.
Image: India's Somdev Devvarman
Photographs: Getty Images
Tipsarevic will be the key
Novak Djokovic, having led them to their maiden title, has followed it up by clinching his second major -- at the Australian Open and then scoring a comprehensive win over Roger Federer in the final in Dubai.
However an injury means that the Serbian will miss out he will miss the tie against India. Despite that the squad still has enough ammunition to douse Indian hopes.
Tipsarevic, coming off a third career final appearance at Delray Beach -- lost to a resurgent Juan Martin Del Potro -- is likely to be one of the singles players.
And another singles prospect Viktor Troicki, who won the decider against France, is also in good form -- highlighted by a final appearance in Sydney (lost to Gilles Simon).
"We are the stronger side," explained Tipsarevic, adding, "Also we have the home advantage, meaning the surface will be picked according to our convenience."
Image: Janko Tipsarevic
'Serbia are clearly the favourites'
Even the Indian experts agreed that the three-time finalists' chances seem bleak.
"It's a tough match, obviously," said Vijay Amritraj, the legendary player who helped India to the final on two occasions (in 1974 and 1987).
"They (Serbia) are clearly the favourites," he continued, adding, "Playing them over there won't easy. But you never know, all of those top guys might not play."
Image: Serbian team celebrates after winning their Davis Cup tie
Lee-Hesh not to play in Davis Cup
As regards the pedigree, Somdev Devvarman, India's top-ranked singles player (at 93), has been in decent form of late.
Having won back-to-back singles gold medals at the Commonwealth Games (New Delhi) and Guangzhou (China) last year, the 26-year-old made it to his second career ATP final recently in Johannesburg -- losing to South Africa's Kevin Anderson.
However, despite his recent success, expecting him to win both his singles matches does seem a bit far-fetched. And India's second singles player is Rohan Bopanna. So, bluntly put, the team could be 0-2 down at the end of the opening day.
The worse news for India is the non-availability of Lee-Hesh.
The crack doubles combine of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi had rejoined forces on the tour and celebrated the same by winning the Chennai Open and making it to the final of the Australian Open.
Add to that their proven record in the competition -- 25 wins in 27 matches, including an undefeated 24-match streak.
However, with the duo having opted out being replaced by Karan Rastogi and Yuki Bhambri -- India have lost out on a certain point.
While Paes has a wrist injury, Bhupathi has been down with groin injury.
Image: Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi