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Davis Cup: Somdev holds the key for India

September 18, 2008 14:49 IST

Romania have played in the World Group for seven successive years. India hasn't been a part of the World Group for the past 10 years.

Romania's No 1 player is ranked 67th on the ATP. Neither of the Indian players have even cracked the 200-mark.

India will be playing on, historically, their worst surface -- 14 wins to 20 losses on clay. The Romanians have been brought up, thrive on the red dirt; 44 of their 68 wins in the Davis Cup have come on clay.

India trail the head-to-head 1-2.

History and statistics are heavily stacked against the visiting Indian team. And still the swing of the pendulum is India's way.

For the first time in 10 years, India have a real chance of re-entering the elite 16-member group as they take on Romania, for the first time since 1971, in the World Group Play-off in Bucharest from September 19-21. That's mainly because of a certain 23-year-old, American University-educated and trained player called Somdev Devvarman.

For the first time in many years we have a player who genuinely 'likes' the surface and has the legs for it. He's fit and in form.

Having picked up trophies around America after turning professional in June, Somdev made an encouraging run at the BCR Open in Bucharest last week, getting through the three qualifying matches. He met world No 18 Nicholas Alamgro of Spain in the first round, the Indian youngster dug deep and extended him to three sets.

In only three months on the circuit, Somdev has risen to 242 in the rankings.

Carrying out the singles duty with him will be India's top-ranked singles player at 222, Prakash Amritraj.

While Amritraj has been embroiled in controversies and publicly took on 'captain' Leander Paes earlier this year, he has shown a marked improvement in his performances on the court and enjoyed the best year of his career so far. He notched two riveting Davis Cup performances, against Uzbekistan and Japan, and a final finish in the ATP after starting the year with an injury lay-off.

But the US-based Amritraj's game leaves a lot to be answered on surfaces other than grass. All his seven wins in the team competition have come at home on the lawns, and it remains to be seen how he tailors his game for the tie against Romania.

Unlike Somdev, Amritraj has precious little match practice on clay going into the tie. He played his last professional match in the first week of August, at the New Delhi hard courts.

India's biggest road-block on mission World Group will be the Romanian No 1 Victor Hanescu.

The 27-year-old, 6'6" Hanescu may be past his prime but notched the biggest win of his career when he won his first ATP title in Gstaad, Switzerland, in July. He beat the likes of Ivo Karlovic and Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka en-route to the title.

While Hanescu, an established clay-courter, will be a tough nut to crack, India will focus on exploiting the Romanian weak-link, Adrian Cruciat. Lined up as the second singles player, Cruciat, ranked 170, is also mainly a Challenger level player, with only one Futures title to his name this year.

Luckily for India, with Paes and Bhupathi combining for doubles, one point will be as good as secured even before the tie gets underway in Bucharest on Friday.

Predictions don't mean much, but Lee-Hesh are still be expected to score over Horia Tecau and Victor Crivoi, who have a combined experience of seven Davis Cup doubles matches.

If the visitors can get over their clay 'complex' and play to form, an entry into the World Group could be only three days away.

Deepti Patwardhan