Home support, favourable surface give India the edge
India take on Brazil in the World Group play-off, starting in Chennai on Friday. On form, the hosts look favourites to clinch this tie, writes Bikash Mohapatra.
India start as the favourites against Brazil in the World Group play-off, starting Friday, at the Nungambakkam stadium in Chennai.
Factors, such as home support, the form of its players, a favourable surface (hard) and the quality of the opposition (vis--vis the surface) indicate that India should have little trouble in booking a berth among the competition's elite 16 next year.
It appears an even contest, though, on paper, at least.
If it is the visitors, who appear to have the edge in singles (going solely by their players' rankings), the home team looks certain to bag the doubles rubber on Saturday.
Both of Brazil's probable singles players - Thomaz Bellucci and Ricardo Mello, at 27 and 75 respectively, are higher-ranked than their Indian counterparts -- Somdev Devvarman (113) and Rohan Bopanna (476), and that gives the visitors an edge (theoretically) going into the tie.
The fact that both Somdev and Bopanna have a negative singles record -- 4-5 (win-loss) and 7-13 -- can also serve as a confidence booster for the visitors.
Image: Mahesh Bhupathi (left) and Leander Paes
'We are confident of taking 2-1 lead on 2nd Day'
Similarly, the home team can be forgiven if they are a tad callous as regards the doubles match. Save a miracle, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi should add to their already impressive Davis Cup record.
However, considering the fact that it is the four singles matches which decide a tie, the visitors have their priorities clear.
"The two singles matches on Day One are the key for us, as singles are very important," reasons Brazil captain Joao Zwetsch. "If we could play the doubles with a 2-0 lead, it would be a different situation and we will be more relaxed," he adds.
His opposite number, SP Misra, concurs.
"One-all on Day One is alright, since we depend a lot on Leander and Mahesh in the doubles on the second day," he says matter-of-factly, before indulging in some usual diplomacy.
"Of course, it is not going to be a cakewalk for them, as the Brazilian pair is also a strong team," he says.
However, it is his final statement that reflects the mood in the team.
"We have the confidence that on the second day we will go up 2-1, if not 3-0," declares Misra.
Image: Somdev Devvarman
Bellucci yet to prove himself on surfaces other than clay
The last statement gives us a real picture, one that suggests a clear winner.
The fact that India is playing the tie on home soil happens to be their biggest advantage, considering their impeccable home record.
The hard surface suits the Indian players more than their opponents. The Brazilians are at home on clay, but yet to prove themselves elsewhere -- in fact they have not won on hard court since 1991, and that includes the eight occasions they have played a tie on the surface.
Bellucci, without a doubt, has had a stellar year. A second tour title in Chile and a best finish in a major thus far -- making it to the round of 16 at the French Open -- have ensured his rise in the rankings.
However, all of his efforts have come on his favoured clay surface. He is yet to prove himself on hard court or, for that matter, any other surface. He can, at best, ensure a point for Brazil.
To expect him to win both his matches will be a bit far-fetched, albeit not impossible.
As regards Mello, the Challenger circuit is his calling, and it will take a lot of resolve on his part to shine in such a pressure situation, in such alien conditions.
To put it bluntly, expecting him to win both, or for that matter, either of his singles matches will be a bit too much.
Image: Thomaz Bellucci
Bopanna's form should hold him in good stead
The Indians, on the other hand, have two in-form players. If Somdev worked his way into the top-100 as recently as last week, Bopanna's impressive run at the US Open (men's doubles) is still afresh in public memory.
His form, the home support, a favourable surface coupled with the quality of the opposition should hold him in good stead in both his singles matches. It will suffice to say he can at least win one.
As regards Somdev, the hard court is his favourite surface, and it won't surprise a bit if he wins both his matches.
Secondly, it is the pedigree that will matter more than anything else in a competition of this magnitude.
India, as a team, has a better history than Brazil, and Davis Cup is a competition that not only helps create history but also revel in it.
Image: Rohan Bopanna
India have chance to find place among the tennis elite
The fact that the hosts have finished runners-up on three occasions -- 1966, 1974 and 1987 -- gives them enough impetus over their opponents.
Brazil, on the other hand, was a semi-finalist on two occasions -- in 1923 and 2000 -- but that we are telling you only because we happen to search for that nation's Davis Cup record.
Else, Brazil's history in the tournament is more about their spectator's performance than their players.
As regards head-to-head, India and Brazil have met twice previously and the honours are even, the most recent meeting being the 1991 World Group quarter-final in Sao Paulo, where the hosts won 4-1 on outdoor clay.
When India played Russia at Moscow in the World Group tie in March, which the latter won 3-2, it marked the first time in 12 years that they were featuring among the elite 16.
Neither the players nor the fans have the patience for another such wait.
And that alone should inspire the home team to reclaim their place among the tennis elite.
Image: Ricardo Mello