Davis Cup: Bopanna plays Bellucci, Somdev takes on Mello

By Anand Philar, IANS
Thursday, September 16, 2010

CHENNAI - Brazil’s non-playing captain Joao Zwetsch could barely hide his grin that grew bigger as the draw for the Davis Cup World Group playoff tie against India was announced here Thursday.

In Friday’s first singles, Brazil No.1 Tomaz Bellucci, World ranked 27, plays Rohan Bopanna while their second-ranked Ricardo Mello comes up against the highest-ranked Indian, Somdev Devvarman in the second singles.

In Saturday’s doubles, the experienced and long-time Indian combination of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi will take on Bruno Soares and Marcelo Mello. In the reverse singles, Somdev opens against Bellucci followed by the contest between Mello and Bopanna.

Zwetsch dismissed speculation about his spontaneous reaction after Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi drew the lots offered to him by chief referee Javier Moreno at a traditional function on the centre court of the SDAT Stadium.

“I always smile,” he quipped, but on a serious note, said: “I do not think draw or ranking makes any difference. Davis Cup is all about emotional feelings. The atmosphere and pressure is very different as you carry the pride of playing for the country. It is going to be a tough and very close tie. I also do not agree that on ranking anybody can be termed as favourite.”

However, for all his attempts to deflect undue attention on his team, the fact remains that Bellucci, only 22, has had a fairly decent run on the tour to get to No.27, while Bopanna, essentially a doubles specialist, is at 479.

India’s non-playing captain S.P. Misra pointed out that Bopanna had beaten higher ranked Rik de Voest as also Somdev who had packed off Izak van der Merwe exactly a year ago in South Africa, defeating the hosts 4-1 at the same stage of the tournament.

The 30-year-old Bopanna, fresh from playing the doubles final of the US Open last week, said: “I haven’t played Bellucci earlier, but I will go out there and give my best.”

The posturing and statements aside, Bellucci has had some excellent results with wins over several top-20 players in the lead up to the Davis Cup tie and more importantly, he is keen to make up for the loss against Uruguay last year.

While a 1-0 lead for Brazil Friday is expected, India’s chances hinge on Somdev pulling it off against Mello who is ranked 75. The 25-year old Somdev broke into top-100 for the first time last month, but has since slipped to 113.

The centre court here holds happy memories for Somdev who did his schooling in this city. In the 2009 Chennai Open, Somdev made it to the final and he is hoping to play as well, if not better Friday.

“I have had some good results in the recent months and I hope to continue that way,” said Somdev, who last month made a direct entry to the US Open, but lost in the first round.

Mello, the 29-year old from Campinas, touched a high of 50 five years ago, but slipped badly thereafter before getting back into the top-100 in April this year. His only ATP tour title was in 2004 on the hard courts of Delray Beach. As such, he could still prove to be a handful for Devvarman.

Both teams felt the hot and humid conditions would not influence the outcome of the tie, but Paes made a significant remark about the superior fitness and power of the Brazilians.

“The Brazilians are extremely fit and train hard, besides being quite powerful. We cannot take them lightly, but again, in Davis Cup all that matters is for you to take the chances that come your way,” said Paes.

A lot would also rest on Paes-Bhupathi, who these days comes together only during representative ties. The last time the two veterans got together was against Russia in the World Group first round last year and won the doubles match, but India went down 2-3.

“It was one of the finest doubles matches ever played by Leander and Mahesh. They were simply outstanding,” gushed forth Misra recalling the match against the Russian pair of Teimuraz Gabashvli and Igor Kunitsyn who went down in straight sets.

The India pair Saturday will have to replicate that performance if only to keep the team afloat and take it into the third day with a chance to win the tie.

As Zwetsch said, the tie is open and it could boil down to keeping one’s nerves to pull through.

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