Just a day ahead of the draw ceremony for the first round Group 1 Asia/Oceania Davis Cup tie against New Zealand, Saketh Myneni, the world number 205 was seen limping off court after a practice session. “He is injured and will not play the tie. Right now we are looking for options, but strictly for doubles,” confirmed Hiranmoy Chatterjee, secretary general of the AITA.
The team is believed to have contacted India’s number one doubles player Rohan Bopanna, sending him an SOS asking him to join the squad for the tie that is scheduled to commence on Friday. The other option was Purav Raja and Divij Sharan but they are currently playing in a tournament in France.
The Indian Express contacted Bopanna, who explained that he had heard of the news for the first time. “I have not been officially contacted at all about joining the team. The selectors had wanted to take three singles players and one doubles player for the tie. The doubles player is not injured, so why would they call me to make it to the team,” he said.
It was a dramatic turn of events after AITA had picked Leander Paes ahead of Bopanna for the Pune tie, hinting at making this a farewell tie for Paes who is gunning for a record of most Doubles wins in Davis Cup. The Indian doubles legend however has turned up at Pune, looking fit and sharp, and said that he had no intentions of quitting. The conundrum happened after Bopanna expressed his displeasure at having not been selected, when the selectors decided to pick three singles players, along with Paes ignoring Bopanna’s claims as highest ranked doubles player.
Though predominantly a singles player – currently the best ranked singles player in the country – Myneni was crucial to the Davis Cup tie. With Paes being the only doubles specialist in the team, the 29-year-old was expected to take the court with the veteran in what is expected to be the toughest match of the tie, given the higher ranked New Zealand doubles pairing.
Myneni had played with Paes in the doubles tie against Spain in September last year and the duo had been able to take a set off Rio Olympic gold medalists Rafael Nadal and Marc Lopez. India has always relied on doubles to get that crucial point in close ties and the hosts need to field a strong team against the tricky Kiwis. Their doubles team, Michael Venus and Artem Sitak, are better ranked and will possibly give the visitors the best chance to register a win.
Additionally, Myneni could have stepped in for a singles rubber if required.
Myneni has been carrying an injury to the arch of his foot since the Chennai Open earlier this year. He was expected to be in shape for the tie and had even had two days’ worth of practice with the team before the injury flared up. In the evening session, Leander Paes saved a moment for Saketh Myneni. The 43-year-old was on centre court at the Balewadi Stadium, practicing while Myneni sat on the sidelines. “It’s all good. Try to smile,” said Paes.
“I’m trying to, but it’s difficult,” replied Myneni as the team went into huddles soon afterward.
In the singles department, India still has the option of fielding Yuki Bhambri and Ramkumar Ramanathan, while Prajnesh Gunneswaran serves as the reserve player.
The question now remains on who will partner Paes for the doubles rubber as he chases a Davis Cup record of most doubles wins. In the past Ramkumar has partnered Paes — incidentally at the same venue during the ATP Challenger in October. The 22-year-old also practiced with the veteran in place of Myneni on Wednesday evening.
India has until 8AM on Thursday to confirm their team of four for the tie. Gunneswaran, as a reserve, will be called into play only if one of the singles players becomes unavailable.
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