Somdev holds the key in India-Japan Davis Cup tie
Somdev Devvarman has a heavy workload to shoulder, as India, sans top doubles player Leander Paes, take on hosts Japan in a bid to re-enter the elite Davis Cup World Group in Tokyo, from Friday.
Having lost 1-4 to top seeds Serbia in the first round, India again face the play-offs, while Japan scored a convincing 4-1 win over Uzbekistan to give themselves a chance of making the 16-nation World Group for the first time since 1985.
Back spasm has forced Paes to miss the trip to Tokyo, and in his absence the doubles rubber on the second day of the tie has now become a tricky affair.
Image: Somdev Devvarman
Photographs: Getty Images
Bopanna to focus only on singles
Surprisingly, India have decided to field Somdev, instead of Rohan Bopanna, along with Mahesh Bhupathi in the doubles rubber against the home pair of Kei Nishikori and Go Soeda.
It means that the 64th ranked Somdev will have to play on all three days, starting with the opening singles of the tie against 174th ranked Yuichi Sugita on Friday and then the reverse singles against Nishikori on Sunday.
Apparently, India's non-playing captain S P Misra wants Bopanna, another tremendous doubles player, to focus on the singles.
Bopanna has done extremely well in singles in the Davis Cup and his real challenge will be against world No 55 Nishikori.
Image: Rohan Bopanna
'The Japanese are no pushovers'
Somdev starts as the favourite against Sugita, and if Bopanna can turn tables on Nishikori, India's job should be easy.
As Nishikori is coming into the tie following a hip and back injury, which he had suffered at the US Open, Bopanna should fancy his chances.
"Nishikori is a top class player. We'll have to see how fit is he? It's going to be hard work for us. Japanese players are no pushovers. We will have to play really well, but I can say that we have a fair chance to win the tie," Misra said.
Misra also said that the weather and courts are also to the liking of the Indians.
"These are new hard decoturf courts. They are medium fast and bouncy. Not slow. It suits our players' style. Weather is also hot, so it's going to be a good tie for us," Misra said.
Image: Kei Nishikori
My target is to win two matches: Nishikori
Nishikori, though, sounded warning bells for India, saying he's fit and raring to go as he wants his country to get back to World Group after a long gap of 26 years.
"My target is to win two matches. I'm physically fit and ready to play. I am one of the team members and am confident Japan is going to win," Nishikori said.
"I have big motivation and am excited to play in this playoff. We will try to make our dream happen."
Somdev, who partnered Nishikori at Wimbledon in the doubles, also sounded confident.
"Kei is a good friend of mine. We played doubles together at Wimbledon. He is a very good player, who has already won a tour event. But we are here to win. This should be a good tie," he said.
India have an overwhelming 18-3 win-loss record against Japan in 21 ties, but Japan captain Eiji Takeuchi is banking on the home advantage.
"This is a good chance for us with a home play-off. I trust these players and there is a good mood in the team. The key is the players trust themselves," Takeuchi said.
The last time the two nations clashed was in 2008, when India prevailed 3-2.
Image: Kei Nishikori and Go Soeda