TENNIS / Ranjeet meets the crafty Cho Min Hyeok in the first rubber
After delivering many heroics over the years, Indian tennis may not present a pleasing sight for once in the Davis Cup theatre, but the players will have to take the blame square on their shoulders as they shot themselves in the foot.
Without the leading players Somdev Devvarman, Yuki Bhambri, Vishnu Vardhan and Sanam Singh, who opted to stay away from national duty to emphasise their demands for a radical change in Indian tennis, it will be a tough task for the inexperienced Indian team to match an otherwise beatable Korean team, in the Asia-Oceania group ‘I’ tie starting at the R.K. Khanna Stadium here on Friday.
As the Davis Cup hero of many a tie at home and abroad, Leander Paes pointed out, the revolting players had pushed themselves to a point of no return with their stubborn stand, and that robbed the chance for a few youngsters who genuinely believed that things would be sorted out before the selection was made.
Paes in partnership with Purav Raja may be able to secure the doubles rubber for the host, but V.M. Ranjeet and Vijayant Malik may have to win at least two singles matches between them to ensure India progresses to the next round in the zonal competition.
It will be interesting to see how the fans of the game in the Capital respond to the tie, when former National champion Ranjeet takes on the unranked but crafty, Cho Min Hyeok, in the first rubber on Friday.
A regular in the professional circuit, the 27-year-old Ranjeet has been making the semifinals consistently, but it has to be seen how the lad from Tamil Nadu shapes up to the unexpected honour thrust on him, in terms of leading the Indian challenge, despite an unflattering world rank of 511.
The Koreans have been famous for their strong legs and lungs that help them run their opponents to the ground, when the game gets reduced to a battle of physical fitness, which is the case most of the time in the best of five sets matches.
Cho Min Hyeok may not be a regular in the professional circuit these days, but the 26-year-old has the experience of having won a Futures singles title in 2009.
With the other three players with an average age of 20, he provides the stability in the team.
The 22-year-old Vijayant Malik, a product of the rural tennis scheme run by Chandigarh, definitely has the game as he showed by winning a Futures title in Vietnam, but with a rank of 537, it has to be seen whether he conjures up the confidence to play to his potential.
Malik will be up against the 19-year-old Jeong Suk-Young who had won a Futures title in India last year, and thus quite familiar with Indian conditions. In any case, the synthetic court, albeit slow, should suit the Koreans as they are quite solid with their groundstrokes.
The best of the Koreans among the current lot, the 21-year-old Lim Young-Kyu who had won the Busan Challenger in 2010, and had reached a career-best rank of 278, will not be playing singles on the opening day, as he has not won a singles match since October last year when he qualified and made the quarterfinals of the Seoul Challenger.
Unlike the New Zealanders who were humbled 5-0 in the last tie in Chandigarh in September, the Koreans will be a competitive lot, particularly for the weakest Indian side to be pressed for Davis Cup duty in a long time. Korea has a 5-3 win-loss record against India in Davis Cup.
Hope springs eternal. If the India squad pulls it off, which is not impossible, Ranjeet and Malik will become heroes, but defeat will project nearly a dozen others as villains!
Feb. 1: V.M. Ranjeet vs Cho Min Hyeok (12 noon), followed by Vijayant Malik vs Jeong Suk-Young.
Feb. 2: Leander Paes and Purav Raja vs Lim Yong-Kyu and Nam Ji Sung (2 p.m.)
Feb. 3: V.M. Ranjeet vs Jeong Suk-Young (12 noon) followed by Vijayant Malik v Cho Min Hyeok.