It had been almost 300 days since International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced India would take on Pakistan in the Davis Cup Group 1 tie. During this period, simmering political concerns reached fever pitch first after Balakot airstrike and then after the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. The tie itself had moved from Islamabad to Nur-Sultan in Kazakhstan with personnel changes aplenty.
The most prominent change, however, was in the Pakistan camp with Aisam-ul-Haq and Aqeel Khan, the two experienced players, pulling out in protest. This forced the Pakistan Tennis Federation into sending Huzaifa Abdul Rehman and Shoaib Khan — two rookie 17-year-olds — for the pivotal tie.
The difference in quality showed from the word go. Ramkumar Ramanathan squared off against Shoaib in the first rubber and won 6-0, 6-0 by dropping just 20 points. Sumit Nagal, who took a set from Roger Federer in the first round of US Open, tried to keep the bagel game going against Rehman but dropped two games in the second set. He eventually won 6-0, 6-2 to put India 2-0 ahead on the opening day.
46-year-old Leander Paes, an Olympic medallist and record holder for most doubles wins in the team format, partnered with Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan to clinch the tie for India following a 6-1, 6-3 win. Nagal played out the final dead rubber against Yousef Kalil to win 6-1, 6-0.
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First Davis cup win and could not start any better. Very happy with 2-0 lead and cant wait for @leanderpaes @jntennis to open with the doubles match tomorrow. Let’s go team India 🇮🇳 @virat.kohli @cornerstonesport @vkfofficial @lottosport @indianoilcorp . #indvspak #teamindia #daviscup
In all, India lost seven games, 91 points across the three 'live' matches from the 265 played and didn't face a single breakpoint.
The comprehensive win, as the scores highlight, doesn't pinpoint the massive difference in experience between the players across the net. A concept not lost on Nagal who won his first Davis Cup match.
"It was easy in the end. I mean if I was 16-17 years old and I was playing someone at a higher level or someone inside the top-150 which is me and Ramkumar, the result would have been the same," said Nagal. "I didn't think too much of the semantics. The match I lost in Delhi (against Spain's Marc Lopez in 2016) was a close one. I was up 4-1 in the third set and lost from there. The second match in China (against Ze Zhang in 2018) I played well but it happens. I'm coming on from two wins but I don't think it really changes my whole life but there is more to come and I'm sure to keep doing well for the country," he added.
Besides Nagal, it was a milestone moment for Jeevan also as he made his Davis Cup debut and capped it off with a win.
"A win is a win so it doesn't really matter who you're playing. I obviously would have liked to have a more competitive match. But at the same time, you don't control those things. You can just control things on your half of the tennis court. Pakistani players had their own reasons for not showing up and I respect it. ITF approved the neutral venue and we showed up to play and they didn't," said Jeevan in a conversation from Kathmandu where he's representing India at the South Asian Games.
At the end of the day, people remember that India beat Pakistan but people won't remember the score or which player showed up on the court
"At the end of the day, people remember that India beat Pakistan but people won't remember the score or which player showed up on the court. The only thing that people will remember is which country won the match. In the grander schemes of things, we have to keep that in mind."
As India landed in Kazakhstan, they were met with miserable conditions with the temperature dropping to -10 degrees celsius and snow all around. The positives despite the gloom outside were: stadium had heating and the opposition comprised of teenagers. So what do you do for 3 days before the action begins? Blow smoke rings with your breath, snow walk and talk about the weather. Members of the squad — Nagal, Jeevan, Saketh Myneni and physio Yash Pandey found it a novel way to give the tie and Indian tennis further coverage.
"We were thinking that we need to develop team chemistry. It was three of us: myself, Yash Pandey and Sumit Nagal. The premise was that tennis doesn't get as much publicity as it should despite the things we do for the flag. So we thought why don't we just start reporting our own updates on our own social media and hopefully people will follow the tennis. Any publicity is good publicity and with that intent we just thought we'll have some fun, report our days, obviously keep tennis central to it, show our life off the court and on it," explained Jeevan on the funny Instagram videos where they would interview each other.
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Day 2 #Daviscupteam Reporting from Astana 😅 . Is there such a thing as too much social media !? U tell me ! . #reportingfrom #Astana #breakingnews #exclusivecoverage #dayone #Daviscup #indiavspakistan #teamindia #frozenriver #freezingweather #balancetraining #weathercomparison #indiantennis #sarcasm #physioturnedreporter #funnyinterview #footworktips #bleedblue #twinning @fastandup_india @nagalsumit @physiofit.india @sakethmyneni . Disclaimer* This video is just for laughs (COMMENT N SHARE) #Likesareagiven #sarcasm101 . 🇮🇳🎾✌️
"I'd like to see all tennis players share their journey on tour on their social media at least. That way we can get more people interested in tennis because as an individual sport, if people can get involved in a player's story, their journey, you feel connected to that player. It is important that players get publicity for their social media. It is a future for marketing," he went on to explain.
For Jeevan it has been tricky few weeks where he's had to adapt to different levels of weather. The group trained in Delhi, in 30 degrees, for a few days before departing for the much-delayed Davis Cup contest. They then braved -12 degrees celsius in Nur-Sultan and made a direct trip to Kathmandu, Nepal for the South Asian Games. The doubles specialist considers it to be part of the job.
"That's part of the package. The stadium in Kazakhstan was very well insulated, it is an international stadium. It is very tough conditions when you're not on court but when you're on it, it was very well equipped and the Kazakhstan tennis federation took great care of the players. The conditions were great. AITA did a great job in getting us business class tickets to come to the South Asian Games for the players in Davis Cup team. We travelled comfortably, couple of days to recharge and the team won a gold medal," says the 31-year-old.
Weather factor has been equally difficult for Nagal who had played a large portion of the latter season in South America with serious humidity and long matches on clay courts. He then jetted down to Delhi with pollution concerns before moving on to Kazakhstan. "The weather has become a habit. It's not easy to go from extreme humidity of South America to Delhi. When I reached Delhi, my eyes were burning. The more time you spend, the easier it gets. I've been in and out of India for the past month so getting easier now."
For Jeevan, the next season gets underway in early January where he will partner with Sriram Balaji. They plan to get things going in Chennai before departing for ATP Challenger events in Thailand and progress from there to improve on rankings.
Nagal, however, would continue his journey in the singles department with limited funds at his disposal - a situation he describes as "not much has changed". He gets going in Canberra with a Challenger before progressing to the Australian Open.
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Updated Date: Dec 07, 2019 16:20:55 IST