We are big underdogs, but have faith in team’s experience: Bhupathi

Terming India as “big underdogs” going into the Davis Cup World Group qualifier rubber against Italy, non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi on Wednesday reiterated that his boys have the best chance of winning on grass and they also have the experience to make light of the gulf in rankings between the two sets of players.

“Nothing can be taken for granted. We are big underdogs but I feel we have a better chance,” Bhupathi told reporters at the press conference after their first practice session at the Calcutta Gymkhana Club.

“I think my boys are experienced enough that the rankings when Davis Cup comes into play is not really a factor. You know, they’ve all played at the highest level now because both Ramkumar (Ramanathan) and Prajnesh (Gunneswaran) have played Grand Slams and Tour events.

“So it’s not like they would be intimidated. When I was playing Davis Cup if I played a top ranked player, you know, it was different for me because I was always competing at the challenger level,” the 44-year-old multiple Grand Slam winner said.

The grass courts of South Club were chosen as the venue as Bhupathi was keen to play on grass considering that the Italians are solid hard court players.

Bhupathi was effusive in praise of India’s number one and world ranked 109 Prajnesh Gunneswaran improving 200 places in two years time, while also terming world number 131 Ramkumar Ramanathan as “super dangerous”.

“I think Prajnesh qualified for his first Grand Slam (Australian Open) so he’s on an all time high confidence wise. He’s had an amazing breakthrough year last year.

“He’s a late bloomer because of injury but he’s definitely brimming with confidence.”

Ramkumar, 23, finished runners-up in his first final on the ATP World Tour in Newport, Rhode Island, in June last year.

“Having said that you know on these courts Ram is going to be super dangerous. We all saw what he did in Newport last year made the final he should have won the title. So we’re positive,” Bhupathi said.

Bhupathi said that having a left-hander of the ilk of Prajnesh makes a big difference.

“It’s definitely an advantage to have a quality left-hander on your team. We’ve never had that ever as far as I can remember.

“Two years ago when we brought him in, there was a strategic reason for that. It wasn’t because, you know, at that time he was ranked 350, but we wanted a lefty and it worked for us. So yeah, having a left hander, at least quality on the team is definitely a benefit.”

Italy will be without their top player Fabio Fognini but have two players in the top 50 — Marco Cecchinato (18), Andreas Seppi (35) — along with Matteo Berrettini (54), Thomas Fabbiano (102), doubles world number 88 Simone Bolelli.

“I mean they got two guys in the top 50 so I don’t think the equation changes for us. We don’t have one guy in the top 100 so I don’t think the equation really changes for us.”

On the new format, he said: “I mean, better or worse I don’t know it’s better for India. I mean when you’re trying to upset a team like Italy who have you know, the strength they have I think, obviously beating them in two sets versus three sets is easier asked for.

“In general sports around the world is trying to get shorter for TV. In the Australian Open, there’s a super tie-breaker in the men’s singles now, Wimbledon is changing. So yeah, I think everyone will learn to live with it. And it’s the way forward in sport.”

Asked whether they are favourites to beat the Italians on the grass, he said: “If it was that simple, then the Italians wouldn’t show up!”

“If it’s just because it’s grass and we were going to win, I’m pretty sure then the Italians would stay at home you know,” he said.