Olympian Vishnu Vardhan is chuffed to see the Indian men’s tennis team visit Pakistan. It ends a 60-year wait for the neighbors to host a Davis Cup tie on the grass courts of Islamabad.
India last played on Pakistan soil in 1964 in the Zone B tie against the home team in Lahore, returning with a 4-0 win at home. In 2019, India were scheduled to play the Asia/Oceania Davis Cup tie in their neighborhood. But resistance from the All India Tennis Association (AITA) prompted the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to move the tie to a neutral venue (Kazakhstan).
Four years later when the AITA made a similar demand, the ITF rejected the appeal. As a result, the Indian federation, and even the government officials, sent a five-member team with coaches and support staff to avoid penalty sanctions from the global governing body.
In a telephonic interaction with Sportskeeda from his residence in Hyderabad, Vishnu Vardhan expressed his thoughts on the Indian team’s tour to Pakistan after six decades.
The former silver medal winner in 2010 Asian Games along with Sania Mirza said:
“First of all, to have a India-Pakistan sporting event, I think this is a good step forward. The way I see it, especially with the ongoing crisis all over the world right now. This is a really good step forward that the Indian team is visiting Pakistan right now.”
“Keeping the tennis part aside, I’m really happy because I’ve a lot of tennis friends from Pakistan and they are really hospitable. We share a very good professional relationship with Pakistan tennis players as well. I’m sure the Indian team is really enjoying a good hospitality over there.”
Vishnu Vardhan assesses Indian team’s strength
The Indian team will captained by Zeeshan Ali in the absence of regular skipper Rohit Rajpal. Tamil Nadu players Ramkumar Ramanathan and N Sriram Balaji will play two singles rubbers each. Meanwhile, Yuki Bhambri and Saketh Myneni will pair up for the only doubles game in the best-of-three rubbers.
Former national champion Nikki Poonacha is the fifth player in the squad, while SD Prajwal Dev is the reserve player. This will be the first Davis Cup tie India will play after Rohan Bopanna retired from the tournament last year.
“There is only one player making his debut – Nikki Poonacha. The rest of them are experienced and have played Grand Slams. So they know how to handle the pressure and take on the responsibility. I don’t have any doubt that Rohan (Bopanna) will not be missed as much,” said Vishnu on the team’s strength.
Yuki Bhambri, who played at the Australian Open last month, was the only player from the current lot who didn’t manage to progress to the second round. Paired with Robin Haase of the Netherlands at the first Grand Slam of the year, Yuki went down in a pulsating clash 1-6, 6-7(10), 6-7 (10).
Vishnu, who has played against Yuki in many matches during his career, backed the World No.83 to fire in the Davis Cup against the arch-rivals.
“Yuki has an incredible last two years, coming as the second-best doubles player. I saw his Australian Open match. He was very unlucky he couldn’t convert those match points. He was just one point away from winning the match. That’s how close the tennis matches are,” Vishnu said.
“He will definitely use that fuel as his advantage into the Davis Cup. I know he is well prepared for singles or doubles, whatever the captain decides, he will put his best foot forward,” he added.
Vishnu Vardhan explains how Zeeshan Ali will have a freehand in managing Davis Cup team
Akhtar Ali was one of the members of the 1964 triumphant Davis Cup team that last toured Pakistan for a Davis Cup match. Akhtar’s son Zeeshan Ali has been additionally entrusted with the dual role of coach and non-playing captain. This is because Rohit Rajpal couldn’t travel to Pakistan owing to personal reasons at the last minute.
Vishnu said that Rohit Rajpal’s unavailability won’t leave the team flustered. He instead called it a blessing in disguise as Zeeshan will have clear communication with the players.
“I know Zeeshan Sir very well. He was an exceptional player himself in his playing days He is having 8-10 years of Davis Cup experience if I am not wrong. The coach and the captain’s role even though it is a lot different and well defined.
“But whenever I was at the Davis Cup with the Indian team, it always overlapped. The coach and the captain had a very good relationship in the past and now but it always overlapped.”
“I really wished if he would have joined the team even if he wasn’t playing” – Vishnu Vardhan on Rohan Bopanna’s absence from Davis Cup squad
World No.1 Rohan Bopanna is currently basking the glory for his recent success at the Australian Open men’s doubles trophy along with local player Matthew Ebden. The 43-year-old tennis ace brought curtains to his more than two decades of Davis Cup career following India’s 3-1 victory against Morocco.
Bopanna finished his Davis Cup journey with 50 matches, 33 ties with 23 rubbers wins, including 13 in doubles. Reacting to how Bopanna’s void will be felt by the Indian team against Pakistan, Vishnu said:
“It definitely plays a very big role not having your best player in the country in a Davis Cup tie. I really wished if he would have joined the team even if he wasn’t playing but I know his commitments and schedule. It’s definitely not easy.
“It’s super inspiring that he has become World No.1 right now. I think the entire Indian tennis community is on an absolute high right now.
Ramkumar Ramanathan will take on 43-year-old Pakistan legend Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi in the first singles of the opening day. Sriram Balaji will face another veteran in Aqeel Khan later on Saturday.
Vishnu, who partnered with Sriram Balaji during the 2018 Wimbledon in men’s doubles, asked the players to rely on the serve-and-volley game. He urged them to move away from playing from the baseline to gain an advantage on the sluggish grass courts in Pakistan.
“You cannot avoid playing serve and volleys on the grass. In the past also, players have tried to play the baseline game. That kind of game is possible in events like Wimbledon where the grass is really slow,” said the 36-year-old.
“But when you come on grass courts in India and Pakistan, especially in subcontinents, it is very slippery and very fast. You have to play a serve and volley game. Players like Ramkumar, Saketh Myneni and Sriram Balaji they only play out and out serve and volley tennis so it will definitely suit them,” he concluded.
Vishnu Vardhan won silver medal at the 2010 Asian Games mixed doubles event alongside Sania Mirza. He also paired with Leander Paes at the London Olympics in 2012. He replaced Saketh Myneni for the Asia/Oceania Group 1 Davis Cup tie against New Zealand in 2017.