Grass is green for India as they take on underdogs Denmark in Davis Cup

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Grass-court tennis is a fading style in world tennis, but for India, it provides a crucial edge as they take on Denmark in the World Group I play-off tie. The hosts have chosen to play the tie on the grass courts of the Delhi Gymkhana, to be held on March 4 and 5.

The last time they went down this route – playing Italy on the grass courts of the Calcutta South Club in February 2019 – the move backfired. India lost all three singles matches including one to the then-Davis Cup debutant Matteo Berrettini, who we now know is a rare, young, grass-court virtuoso.

However, the grass should be greener against Denmark with several factors making India the firm favourites for the tie, with the courts drilling in the home advantage.

For starters, India’s singles challenge is spearheaded by Yuki Bhambri and Ramkumar Ramanathan, whose game styles are well-suited to and flourish on the faster surface. The 29-year-old Bhambri is making his comeback for India after a length injury layoff that saw him lose three of his prime years. The former junior world No 1, who counts Queen’s as one of his favourite tournaments, plays swift, attacking tennis and his touch-play can be maximised on grass courts.

In his short time on the ATP circuit since his return in January, he has already shown glimpses of what he is capable of, reaching the second round of the Maharashtra Open in a thriller, then beating this year’s champion, Joao Sousa, in the Dubai qualifiers.

Ramkumar’s big serve and volley game is ideal for grass courts, as he has proven previously. Some of his best performances have come on grass, such as reaching the final of the ATP 250 at Newport in 2019, beating Dominic Thiem in Antalya back in 2017, and making his Grand Slam debut in doubles at Wimbledon in 2021.

“We also looked at the discomfort of the opponents. I am sure if we had travelled to Denmark, they would not have liked to face Ramkumar on grass courts. We had a long discussion with Yuki Bhambri and Rohan Bopanna also and we all agreed that grass is the best option,” non-playing captain Rohit Rajpal told the media.

“We are strong on the grass court, and that is the reason we picked the venue. It’s a home-court advantage for us and I think on grass we have the best chance to beat Denmark,” Bopanna was quoted as saying by PTI.

Apart from Ramkumar and Bhambri, Prajnesh Gunneswaran is the back-up singles player, with the experienced doubles pair of Divij Sharan and Rohan Bopanna completing India’s five-member line-up for the World Group I clash. Victory will mean they will compete in the World Group I stage scheduled later this year. India have never fallen down to the Group II rung before in the competition, and it is unlikely they will this time.

Denmark are a depleted unit with their top-ranked player, Holger Rune, pulling out and no other player being in the top 300. While India does not have a single top-100 singles player, (Ramkumar is the India No 1 at an ATP rank of 170), the highest-ranked Dane is Mikael Torpegaard at 305 with the rest of the Danish squad below 800. The presence of doubles player Frederik Nielsen, a former Wimbledon doubles champ, who has a career-high ranking of 17 in doubles, will be a comfort.

This gulf in rankings between two players does not always mean much when it comes to Davis Cup, as India will well remember from their earlier outings against Finland and Croatia. Yet, the experience and depth of the Indian players pits Denmark as the underdogs, a fact acknowledged by captain Nielsen.

Consider this: Bopanna is slated to play doubles with Sharan, even though he has won two ATP titles this year with Ramkumar while Saketh Myneni (600) in reserves is ranked higher than the second singles player from Denmark, Christian Sigsgaard (824). The inclusion of crowds, a recent development as the country’s Covid situation improves, will be an added advantage for the Indians.

The tie on Saturday will begin with Ramkumar playing World No 824 Christian Sigsgaard, followed by Bhambri – with a career-high of 83 – playing Torpegaard, with a career-high of 166. If things go as per plan and ranking, the bankable doubles rubber will be the clincher for India, instead of the solitary point it has been in the recent past. For once, the old-school grass should be a weapon for even the new-age team of former Davis Cup finalists India.

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