The India-Norway tie could well be decided by World No 2 Casper Ruud but the team format keeps the tie balanced for India
It hasn’t been the most fruitful season on the ATP Tour for India’s men’s singles players. None made it to the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament. But as they come together in Lillehammer, Norway, they hope to channelise the group dynamics towards a surprise against a team headlined by French and US Opens finalist Casper Ruud.
Injuries, form and fitness have kept the Indian singles players down this year. Yuki Bhambri, who returned from a long injury layoff last year, has been the only one to pick a match win on the ATP Tour this season. But it is Bhambri’s partnership with Saketh Myneni that has stuck out.
Myneni, coming in for the injured Rohan Bopanna, broke into the doubles top-100 this year. He’s won seven doubles matches in 2022 — five of them coming with Bhambri on the ATP Challenger Tour.
After a serious while, the singles options are fit and look threatening to make an impact. Ramkumar Ramanathan is the highest-ranked player in singles and doubles in the current squad. India have other options in Bhambri, Sumit Nagal, who underwent hip surgery last year, Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Sasikumar Mukund, who won an ITF Future event in Portugal last week.
When it came to it, Norway won the toss. And expectedly decided to start with Ruud in the first singles rubber. Facing him will be left-hander Gunneswaran followed by Ramanathan against 325th-ranked Viktor Durasovic.
Next day, Norway are pencilled in to play Ruud/Durasovic for the doubles against Bhambri/Myneni followed by the reverse singles (if required).
“I would like to save Sumit for the second day. We’re playing Prajnesh because he’s a leftie, is aggressive and he hits big. And he tends to play much better against bigger players. So we thought he can trouble Ruud more than a Sumit who would engage in rallies and slug it out with rallies,” said team captain Rohit Rajpal from Norway.
“I would have preferred that Ramkumar played first. If he pulls off his match, I would have liked Prajnesh play Ruud 1-0 up. But those are dreams and wishes. Our target is to be 1-1 on the first day, it would be key for us. We’d have to be very fluid and change strategy as results go. I’ll have to be on my toes totally,” he added.
While India have multiple singles options, Norway have put their hopes firmly in Ruud and for good reason. The 23-year-old, who has a 21-9 Davis Cup record, has been to two major finals this year, jumped to World No 2 after the run in New York. But one cannot ignore the fact that he’s had a draining couple of weeks in the American hardcourt swing. And yet decided to turn up for his country – a run that goes back to his debut in 2015.
Despite Ruud’s prowess, the team format keeps the tie balanced for India’s benefit. Wins over Durasovic and in the doubles is where India should focus even if Ruud proves a hard nut to crack.
For the tie, Norway have turned to Hakons Hall, a multi-purpose stadium that was used for ice hockey during the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics. The two-day India-Norway tie will be played on indoor hard courts. To prepare effectively, the Indian team started arriving on Monday to get used to weather conditions and the courts.
Our target is to be 1-1 on the first day, it would be key for us.”
“They’re alright. We would have preferred faster courts any day. The surface is a little rough so the ball kind of sits up a little bit. But it is a home tie and we understand they’re going to be picking court for themselves,” said Rajpal.
“These guys return very well and on slower courts it becomes more challenging to hold serve. You’ll have to fight point by point. We’ll have to be patient and make our way kind of thing.”
Davis Cup: India vs Norway draw
Friday, 16 September
Singles: Casper Ruud vs Prajnesh Gunneswaran
Singles: Viktor Durasovic vs Ramkumar Ramanathan
Saturday, 17 September
Doubles: Casper Ruud and Viktor Durasovic vs Yuki Bhambri and Saketh Myneni
Singles: Casper Ruud vs Ramkumar Ramanathan
Singles: Viktor Durasovic vs Prajnesh Gunneswaran
Watch: Davis Cup tie between India and Norway will be available on Eurosport
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