The sound of tennis racquet meeting ball is always louder in an indoor hall. Exaggerated as it may be, it can tell you who is hitting the shots more cleanly, and with more venom. On Saturday, Day 2 of the Davis Cup World Group Playoff, the Serbians were the ones reaping the rewards from their measured thumps across the net. Victory for Serbia in the doubles rubber was never on the cards.
At best, the pair of Nikola Milojevic and debutant Danilo Petrovic was a scratch team non-playing captain Nenad Zimonjic fielded in the absence of the bigger names in Serbian tennis. Rankings are one thing – Milojevic is 193 and Petrovic is 233 in singles – the pair has experience in the Davis Cup of just one solitary rubber between them. There is no conceivable explanation that would render their 7-6(5), 6-2, 7-6(4) win over the Indians in the doubles match as anything other than an upset. A shock win that secured the tie for Serbia with a 3-0 scoreline.
At the beginning of the tie, the doubles rubber – as has now become an Indian tradition – was the match that the travelling team was expected to win. In the squad there was Rohan Bopanna, the world no 30 in doubles who is the only player in the entire tie to have won a Grand Slam (Mixed Doubles at the French Open in 2017). Slated to play along with him was N Sriram Balaji, an athletic player slowly making his way up the doubles ladder. Only, Balaji was replaced last minute, curiously, with the injury plagued Saketh Myneni.
“The captain thought Myneni would be a much better fit to this tie,” AITA secretary general Hironmoy Chatterjee told The Indian Express. “There was no injury problem for Balaji.” No doubt, in his time Myneni has been an impressive player, especially with that big serve that is oh so adored in Indian tennis folklore. But the 30-year-old has had problems with fitness, all dating back to another Davis Cup tie in February last year. Myneni limped out of the zonal tie against New Zealand in Pune last year, was forced to miss out of the tour for months thereafter. His name appeared briefly and unexpectedly for the playoff against Canada last year, but he was deemed unfit by skipper Mahesh Bhupathi.
A year later, at this stage of the tournament, Myneni did return to the Davis Cup fold. But his pairing with Bopanna, himself a victim of injury in the recent past, was not a combination that worked well against two hard-hitting minnows. Court coverage, with two players standing at an even 6-foot-4 each, should not have been an issue, but for the speed in their legs and control in their hands letting them down at crucial junctures of the game. Myneni was clearly short of match sharpness. He’s played eight tournaments so far this year, albeit beating the once world no 8 Mikhail Youzhny (who is retiring at the end of the season). At the net, the world no 222 was rusty, failing to clear the net on multiple occasions.