India to host Italy on grass in Kolkata
India will host Italy on grass in the Qualifiers for the Davis Cup Finals at South Club in Kolkata on February 1-2, the national tennis federation said on Tuesday.
Kolkata was chosen as the venue only after the All India Tennis Association (AITA) secured two key exemptions from the International Tennis Federation (ITF).
The rules require that World Group and Play-off ties be played at a venue where the space behind the baseline is 27 feet and there is a seating capacity of 4000.
Only DLTA and the centre court at MSLTA fulfil the two requirements but they do not have grass courts.
Non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi was keen to play on grass, considering that Italians are solid hard court players.
"We had written to ITF, asking for these exemptions because we wanted to play on grass. South Club courts have space of 21 feet behind the baseline and we can create stands to accommodate up to 3000 fans. ITF agreed on this," AITA Secretary Hironmoy Chatterjee told PTI.
"We had also asked for change in dates but they did not agree on that. We wanted the tie on Saturday and Sunday as against Friday and Saturday," Chatterjee added.
The last time India hosted a tie on grass was in 2016 when India played Korea in Chandigarh.
Bhupathi lauded the AITA for making the effort in convincing the ITF to relax the rules.
"This is what we wanted as a group. We feel our best chance of beating Italy is on grass, so we are glad that AITA made it happen. Now we need to make use of this opportunity," Bhupathi, the winner of multiple Grand Slam titles, told PTI.
"Playing Italy on hard courts would have been suicidal with their six players in top-100. We have to disrupt them and playing on grass in hard court season will disrupt their plans. We believe we have a chance," Bhupathi added.
Asked if veteran Leander Paes will be considered for the tie, given his skill set on grass, Bhupathi said that was for the selection committee to decide.
"We have six doubles players in the top-100 including Leander and all could be considered."
A total of 24 teams will play in the knockout Qualifiers on February 1 and 2 to decide which 12 teams will play the year-end Finals.
Twelve winners in February will join these six teams for the 18-team Finals in Madrid in November 2019.
According to the new format, only four semi-finalists from 2018 season along with two wild cards -- Argentina and Britain -- have a direct entry.
India lost their World Group Play-off to Serbia while Italy lost their quarterfinal to France. Since India are ranked 20, they again got a shot at World Group.