New Delhi: India face an uphill battle when they take on former champions Spain in a Davis Cup World Group Play-off tie here from Friday.
Although expected to breeze past the Indian team without breaking much sweat, Spain have brought over their top guns for this tie.
Spain, five-time Davis Cup champions, have been out of the World Group for the last couple of years, having suffered shock defeats to Brazil and Germany.
They are reluctant to let go of their chance to make a return to the World Group and have brought a star-studded squad including the likes of 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal, World No. 13 David Ferrer and the redoubtable doubles duo of Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez.
India, spearheaded by veteran Leander Paes, will field youngsters Saketh Myneni and Ramkumar Ramanathan in the singles matches.
It is expected to be a baptism by fire for the 21-year-old Ramanathan who was lined up to take on the mighty Nadal in Friday’s first singles match — as decided in Thursday’s draw here.
Ranked 137 in the world, 28-year-old Myneni will take on Ferrer in Friday’s second singles clash.
The Indian doubles combination, traditionally the strong point of the hosts, has been weakened by the withdrawal of Rohan Bopanna due to injury. The Indians have fielded a tentative lineup of Paes and Myneni to take on French Open champions Feliciano and Marc in the doubles encounter.
Nadal, however, dismissed sugesstions that it will be a walk in the park for the Spaniards, insisting that the heat and humidity in the capital may make the going tough for the visitors.
“I think it is going to be tough for everybody. It is an important tie for both of us and we are looking forward to come back to the World Group and it is the goal for both teams.
“We are playing under heavy conditions. It is very warm and humid. The Indian players have chosen to play in these conditions. The team playing at home, in their own conditions, are always dangerous. The conditions are different here,” Nadal told reporters at the Davis Cup draw here.
“In terms of names and ranking, we are probably the favourites, but at the same time, the team that plays at home has the advantage. So, we have to try our best from the beginning. I have maximum respect for the Indian team. This tie is going to be a tough one and we are ready for the action.”
The 30-year-old also said that the Spaniards have struggled to adjust to Delhi’s conditions during their practice sessions over the last couple of days.
“We are used to playing in different conditions around the world during the ATP Tour. But here the heat and humidity is higher than any other place we have played on the Tour. We will try our best and we will try to handle the conditions and will try to be very competitive,” Nadal said.
Currently ranked World No. 4, Nadal is returning from an injury,
“Injuries are tough. It is difficult to get back into the rhythm, so it is difficult to make a comeback. I think I have done well since my return. I had a good Olympic Games and I was playing in the US Open although I lost. This is a big chance to win and to come back to the World Group. We are here to try and meet our goal,” he said.
“With the number of players Spain have in the top 100 of the world rankings, we deserve to be in the World Group.”
Ramanathan, on the other hand, was a picture of determination. Despite being virtually written off by the critics, the tall and lanky Chennai lad appeared determined to come up with his best in what is expected to be a David vs Goliath encounter on Friday.
“It is a dream-come-true to play Rafa. He is one of the best players of all time. It is a great feeling to be playing him. We need to keep the first few games close and then I think we can pull the crowd over. I need to play some aggressive tennis and I have to go for my shots no matter what,” he said.
Although Paes will not have the experienced Bopanna as his partner for the doubles tie, the visitors are reluctant to write him off as a threat.
Feliciano opined that although Paes will be playing alongside a relatively inexperienced partner in Myneni, the Olympic bronze medallist is still a dangerous customer due to his vast experience.
“Leander is very dangerous even though he is playing with a new partner. We think the doubles tie will be very tough, very equal. It can go either way. So Marc and I are expecting a tough match,” he said.