Kolkata, Jan 31 (PTI) Senior players Rohan Bopanna and Prajnesh Gunneswaran Thursday backed an extension for non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi, whose contract renewal hinges on the team’s performance on the Davis Cup tie against Italy starting Friday. Bhupathi had replaced Anand Amritraj as captain in April 2017 and his term will come to an end with the Italy tie. Senior AITA official had told PTI that parent body is unlikely to give Bhupathi an extension. Also Read - Coronavirus Pandemic: India's Davis Cup Tie Against Finland in September Postponed to 2021
However his one-time doubles partner Bopanna spoke glowingly about what Bhupathi brought to the table. Also Read - From Sachin Tendulkar to Abhinav Bindra, India Icons Predict How Sporting World Will Change After Coronavirus
“He brings in a lot more communication with the players not only just during the Davis Cup tie but throughout the entire year. That makes the big difference,” Bopanna said. Also Read - Prajnesh Gunneswaran to Divij Sharan - Indian Tennis Players Talk on COVID-19 Outbreak: Not Just Money, We Are Losing Time Too
“Even though you don’t meet him so often but the communication you constantly have brings in a bigger camaraderie when you come into the Davis Cup tie. That really helps and you know feel special with for the players you know when they come on the time great captain,” the 2017 French Open mixed doubles champion said.
Bopanna, who made his Davis Cup debut in 2002, recollected meeting him for the first time in 1997.
“When I first met him and till today, he’s very much experienced and a senior player to me. No matter which tournament I played, wherever it was, he always gave that advice which was required and for a player to grow,” the Coorgi said.
“I think that comes from within him as a player. I don’t think he needs to go out there to wanting to really do it. The minute he sees any one of us play and if if sees there’s something we can improve and change, it just comes naturally to him,” Bopanna added.
“That’s the beauty of a player. It’s great to have him as a captain for us to get better and become better tennis players,” he said firmly backing his captain.
Under Bhupathi, the team twice reached the World Group Play-off stage, the maximum where it could go with the current set of players, according to the experts.
India lost to Canada (September 2017) and Serbia (September 2018) in away World Group play-off ties.
Apart from Uzbekistan at home, the Indian team also beat China in an away tie in April 2018.
Bhupathi had pulled a masterstroke when he brought in an inexperienced Gunneswaran ahead in must-win rubber against China ahead of Sumit Nagal in the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Group I rubber last year.
The southpaw defeated reigning junior US Open champion Wu Yibing 6-4, 6-2 to script a 3-2 victory from being 0-2.
Prajnesh is currently the number one among India’s singles players and he too wants Bhupathi to continue.
“He’s an invaluable addition to the team. The fact is he’s played at a very high level for a long time and all of us are better off taking his advice,” Prajnesh, who is on a career high rank of 102, said.
“He’s definitely has won many Davis Cup matches under high pressure and he knows how to help us deal with all the things that come with Davis Cup. I’m very happy that he’s here with us.” India number two Ramkumar said all the members of the team have a lot of respect for him and that’s the very important thing out of all. Having him sitting by our side, puts any team under a lot of pressure. It’s good to have him.” Indian doubles player Divij Sharan is set to make a comeback for the first time since 2012 and he said: “Obviously, we don’t get to spend that much time with him as we’re traveling 30-35 weeks.
“But he very closely follows all our matches. I always hear from him. He watches them online. It’s great to have him by our side and be there on court by our side,” he concluded.