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Davis Cup: Paes eyes doubles world record

February 02, 2017 18:43 IST

Leander Paes

IMAGE:  Indian tennis players Leander Paes and Ramkumar Ramnathani during the inaugural ceremony of the Davis cup at Balewadi stadium in Pune. Photograph: PTI

All eyes will be on veteran Leander Paes, who is the on the cusp of a historic world record in perhaps his last appearance in Davis Cup, as India clash with relatively weaker New Zealand in the Asia/Oceania Group I tie, in Pune from Friday.

The 18-time Grand Slam champion, who is all set to take part in his 55th Davis Cup tie, is tied with Italy’s Nicola Pietrangeli on 42 doubles wins in doubles. A win on Saturday will make him the most successful doubles player ever in Davis Cup history.

Paes, however, will have to team up with last-minute inclusion and his London Olympics doubles partner Vishnu Vardhan, after original choice Saketh Myneni failed to recover from a foot injury sustained during last month's Chennai Open.

"Myneni's injury is not okay yet," said Anand Amritraj, who is leading the side for one last time, at a press conference after the draw for the tie, which will be first in Pune after 43 years.

Paes and national hard court champion Vardhan will clash with the Kiwi pair of Artem Sitak and Michael Venus on day two of the tie.

Vardhan was given a call-up after three people spoke to India's top doubles player Rohan Bopanna, team captain Anand Amritraj said at the media conference after the draw.

"Three people spoke to him. I did not. I don't know exactly what happened," said Amritraj.

Paes, asked on the subject, said he wanted to give a call to Bopanna on Wednesday but was stopped from doing so.

"I was the first to suggest of making a call to Rohan but I was told not to make the call," said Paes who partnered Bopanna at the Rio Games but crashed out in the first round.

Paes also said he and Vishnu, who played as a pair in the 2012 London Olympic Games, seemed to have their destiny stitched together.

"Someone smart said two hours ago that you and Vishnu do seem to have a little destiny together. I want to thank Vishnu as a fellow Davis Cupper to push himself forward at such a quick call, not even a couple of days before the match. It speaks a lot about his patriotism, about how he puts the team above himself. It speaks large about his commitment to all of us as a team.

"We are actually wearing saffron, green and white (flag at the media conference). We play as a team, fight as a team. India has always done it. Rankings go out of the window. We beat France in Frejus, beat the Dutch at Jaipur and Anand sir took us to three World Group play-off rounds all three years in a row now. We go out and fight together. We play hard, have one billion people behind us. He (Vishnu) did it in Olympics and at Wimbledon. We will fight together.

"Their doubles team has got a lot stronger. Before that they had good singles players. Yuki has done such a great job. He's cleaned them up in singles. He has got a fabulous game, he stays within his game," said Paes about India's chances.

He, however, refused to divulge who prevented him from doing so.

Leander Paes

IMAGE:  Indian non-playing Davis cup captain Anand Amritraj, tennis players Leander Paes, Ramkumar Ramanathan, Vishnu Vardhan and Yuki Bhambri during the inaugural ceremony. Photograph: PTI

Yuki Bhambri, ranked 368, will open India's campaign against New Zealand's number one player Finn Tearney, ranked 414, while Ramkumar Ramanathan (206) will take on Jose Statham (417) in the second singles.

On paper, due to higher rankings and the advantage of playing at home, India appear to hold a clear edge over the Kiwis against whom they have a 5-3 win-loss record, with all the defeats occurring in the 1970s.

India have not lost to New Zealand since 1978 when the Kiwis, then spearheaded by Onny Parun, had beaten them 4-1 in New Delhi in the Eastern Zone semi final.

But they can ill afford to take New Zealand lightly especially considering that the visitors had proved a tough nut to crack in their own backyard in Christchurch in July, 2015, in the Asia-Oceania Group I semi-final, which team captain Anand Amritraj conceded had happened.

"Their doubles team is stronger but we cannot take their singles players light. When we met the last time we did that and we were down 1-2," recalled Amritraj.

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