A formidable India is expected to demolish the challenge of a depleted Pakistan in a Davis Cup tie starting here on Friday, after the fixture was shifted to a neutral venue following a drama-filled build up.
The uncertainty over the venue remained till the last moment and it only added up the confusion regarding players selection in both the sides.
Eventually, the International Tennis Federation moved the tie to Nur-Sultan after its independent tribunal rejected Pakistan Tennis Federation’s review appeal.
While it resolved the security concerns, the shifting of the tie did no good to the competition. India, with players of the caliber of Sumit Nagal, Ramkumar Ramanathan and veteran Leander Paes, was already expected to win easy but pulling out of Pakistan top players Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and Aqeel Khan has made it a no-contest.
While the Indian players have Grand Slam experience behind them, the Pakistanis are still struggling to make a mark even at the ITF Futures level.
At least, the doubles rubber would have been competitive if Pakistan’s top players were there but they chose not to play, protesting against shifting of the tie.
It will be a learning experience for Pakistan’s junior players, who will lead their country’s challenge in the tie, the winner of which will travel to Croatia in March 2020 for the World Group Qualifiers.
The tie will offer 46-year-old Paes a chance to further better his Davis Cup record for most doubles win. He stands on top with 43 wins, which he had achieved last year while playing against China.
A 44th win beckons Paes, the owner of 18 Grand Slam trophies, as he will be partnering Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, who is set to make his Davis Cup debut.
The left-handed Chennai lad will become India’s 75th player to play a Davis Cup tie.
In-form Nagal has an opportunity to earn his first Davis Cup win as he has lost both his singles matches so far — against Spain (2016) and China (2018).
Ramkumar, who will go into this tie as the number two singles player, can also better his win-loss record. So far he has 7-7 record in eight ties.
Ramkumar will open the tie on Friday against Muhammad Shoaib, who has not even won a single match in the main draw of an ITF Futures tournament. The 17-year-old has not played a single match in the entire 2019 season.
In the second singles, Nagal will take on Huzaifa Abdul Rehman, who did well on the junior ITF circuit.
India’s non-playing captain Rohit Rajpal said they were looking for a whitewash.
“Pakistan has young players who seem to be hitting well and free. They are playing against a tough Indian team with nothing to loose. I was told that in their press conference they said they are fighter and will fight till the end. We are looking to whitewash them,” Rajpal told PTI.
The tie is being played on indoor hard courts due to sub-zero temperature.
“Thankfully the AITA provided us some very heavy jackets considering the extreme weather conditions. Our physios are giving the players extending sessions. There are improvised drills to not only warm up the players, but also cool them down.”
On the second day of the tie on Saturday, Paes and Nedunchezhiyan will take on the combination of Shoaib and Huzaifa before the reverse singles are played.
Even if India take an unassailable 3-0 lead, the fourth rubber will be played. The teams have a choice of not playing the inconsequential fifth rubber.
Matches to start at 1:30pm (IST) on Saturday and at 11:30 am on Saturday.