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Davis Cup: Upbeat India take on Casper Ruud’s Norway

The Indian Davis Cup will be squaring off against Norway on Friday and Saturday, and are confident of winning

Casper Ruud in action in the US Open final.
Casper Ruud in action in the US Open final. (AFP)

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After fighting a lonely battle on the tennis tour this season, Indian players are seeking strength in numbers. India will take on Norway, spearheaded by US Open finalist and World No. 2 Casper Ruud, in a Davis Cup Group 1, first round tie, which will be held in Lillehammer, Norway, today and tomorrow.

Through reasons varying from form, fitness and injury, Indian players have struggled to make a mark on the pro tour this season. None of them were able to make it to the singles main draw of any of the Grand Slam events, and Yuki Bhambri, who returned from a long injury-layoff late last year, has been the only one to pick a match win on the ATP Tour so far in 2022. But the players are keen to make a difference in the premier men’s tennis team event. A win against Norway will take them to the World Group Qualifiers.

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“The morale is pretty high and everyone is still confident in their own abilities,” Bhambri says from Norway. “Sure, we’re not knocking on the doors of top 100, but we’re still capable. They’re still good guys and they will turn it around.”

For the first time in four years, all the four singles players are fit and raring to go. Ramkumar Ramanathan is the highest ranked Indian in singles (276) as well as doubles (67). India have four other singles options in Bhambri, Sumit Nagal (the last Indian to win a Grand Slam main draw match), Prajnesh Gunneswaran, and Sasikumar Mukund, who won an ITF Futures event in Sintra, Portugal last week. Saketh Myneni has replaced Rohan Bopanna, who pulled out of the tie earlier this week with a knee injury. The 34-year-old Myneni broke into the doubles top-100 earlier this year and has won seven doubles titles, including five on the ATP Challenger Tour, with Bhambri this season.

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While the Indian team, practising in Norway since last week, is weighing its options, Ruud may well be the lone warrior for Norway. The 23-year-old will be coming off a draining fortnight, where he made his first-ever US Open final and rose to a career-high of No 2. Ruud, who has a 21-9 Davis Cup record, has played in the competition every year since making his debut in 2015 and will be playing against India. 

But therein lies the beauty of the team competition. Even with Ruud competing in singles, all is not lost for India. They will have to find a way to pocket the other three points on offer. Norway’s second-best player is Viktor Durasovic, who, at a ranking of 325, is within the fighting range of all the Indian players. The only other Norwegian player, in the team of five, to have an official ranking is 21-year-old Lukas Hellum Lillleengen, who is placed at 1211 on the ATP charts. India, at 25, is ranked seven places higher than Norway in the Davis Cup. 

For the tie, Norway have chosen to revive a former Olympic arena. The two-day event will be staged on indoor hard courts at the Hakons Hall, a multi-purpose stadium that was used as an ice-hockey venue during 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics.

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“We're playing indoors so conditions are very different from what our players are used to,” said India coach Zeeshan Ali. “It was important to come in a few days earlier as the boys haven't played indoors the whole summer and they needed to get used to the conditions.”

The hard Rebound Ace court has been laid out on a wooden flooring. While it is a rare practice on the ATP Tour, a lot of European countries, especially in the colder months, host Davis Cup ties in makeshift venues like these. All the Indian players are comfortable on hard courts, but they are still finding their feet on this slow, low-bouncing surface. “The venue is not heated, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s around 10-15 degrees. Cold, but pleasant.” added Bhambri.

Looking ahead to the match, the 30-year-old adds, “Nobody is really thinking of it as pressure. It’s actually more motivational because we know that we have a chance of going back into the qualifiers. Everybody wants to play in the World Group. It’s a prestigious event and we want to be a part of it. These are the type of ties we have to win.” A lot may yet depend on how Ruud plays, but India have the collective firepower to take down Norway.

Davis Cup: India Vs. Norway schedule

Friday, 16 September

Match 1: Casper Ruud v Prajnesh Gunneswaran

Match 2: Viktor Durasovic v Ramkumar Ramanathan

Saturday, 17 September

Match 3: Viktor Durasovic/Casper Ruud v Yuki Bhambri/Saketh Myneni

Match 4: Casper Ruud v Ramkumar Ramanathan

Match 5: Viktor Durasovic v Prajnesh Gunneswaran

Deepti Patwardhan is a freelance sportswriter based in Mumbai.

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