Sharan returns, Balaji dropped from Indian Davis Cup team for Italy tie By Amanpreet Singh

Pune, Dec 31: Asian Games gold medallist Divij Sharan is set to play only his second-ever Davis Cup tie and first since 2012 after being included in the Indian team for the World Group Qualifier rubber against Italy, scheduled for February 1-2 in Kolkata.

             The new selection committee, led by Rohit Rajpal, has largely gone by the rankings.

             Sharan had missed out on playing the Serbia tie due to a shoulder injury. The left-hander from Delhi, ranked 39, will play the doubles alongside Rohan Bopanna, ranked 37th with whom he has paired for 2019 on the Pro Tour.           

             Sharan had made his Davis Cup debut against New Zealand, playing the doubles rubber with Vishnu Vardhan, in India’s 5-0 whitewash of the visitors.

             As Yuki Bhambri continues to miss action due to his knee injury, the singles duty will done by Prajnesh Gunneswaran (110) and Ramkumar Ramanathan (132).

             Saketh Myneni (259), who ended a runner-up at the Bengaluru Challenger and has qualified for the Tata Open Maharashtra, has retained his place. 

             N Sriram Balaji, who played the inconsequential fourth rubber against Serbia’s Pedja Kristin, has been dropped from the squad along with Arjun Kadhe who was a reserve member.

             The team has a new member in young Sasi Kumar Mukund, who was impressive in the 2018 season. He has zoomed to 295 after beginning the 2018 season at a low 426.

             Veteran Leander Paes continues to remain on the sidelines. He is country’s third highest-ranked player at 63 in the world.

             India will host Italy on grass courts of South Club.

             “Rankings speak for the performances of the players. Sasi is now ranked higher than Arjun and Sumit Nagal. He is just 20, we need to groom him,” Rajpal told PTI.

             Asked if playing Paes on grass was an option, Rajpal said, “Rohan and Divij are playing together on tour and they are also higher-ranked, so the committee felt they are the best combination.”

             Rajpal also said that Nagal, Kadhe and national champion Siddharth Vishwakarma will also be part of the preparatory camp, beginning January 22.

             A total of 24 teams will play in the knockout qualifiers on February 1 and 2 to decide which 12 teams will play the year-end Finals.

             Twelve winners in February will join these six teams for the 18-team Finals in Madrid in November 2019.

             According to the new format, only four semifinalists from 2018 season along with two wild cards – Argentina and Britain – have a direct entry.

             India lost their World Group Play-off to Serbia while Italy lost their quarterfinal to France. Since India are ranked 20, they again got a shot at World Group.

             The Indian squad: Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Ramkumar Ramanathan, Divij Sharan, Rohan Bopanna, Saketh Myneni and Sasi Kumar Mukund. PTI