The Davis Cup World Group Playoff tie between Japan and India over the weekend revealed the tennis fortunes of two nations moving in different directions.
Japan captured the tie 4-1 behind stellar play from No. 1 Kei Nishikori and No. 2 Yuichi Sugita, who won their three combined singles matches all in straight sets. The victories moved Japan back into the World Group for the first time since 1985.
With Nishikori just 21, and Sugita, the story of the weekend, having turned 23 on the tie’s final day, Japan clearly has a youthful foundation to build upon for the future as it prepares to take on more powerful opponents.
Japan captain Eiji Takeuchi admits that this is part of the plan he envisions for the future of his country’s Davis Cup program.
“We are aiming to create a talent pool of younger players,” said Takeuchi. “When I first took over as captain, the average age of our players was over 30, but not anymore.”
Takeuchi wants to work to improve the team he has while simultaneously identifying more talent.
“With Sugita, (Go) Soeda and (Tatsuma) Ito, we want to raise the level of their games,” he said. “We are looking to the younger players going forward, especially in the doubles,” he added. “We have changed our development plans.”
Takeuchi says the Japan Tennis Association is making a concerted effort to prepare players to compete at the international level.
“We are selecting players one by one and training them to play on the Tour,” he noted. “This program and our National Training Center in Tokyo are a very important part of our plans.”
Japan will learn who it will play in its first-round World Cup tie in 2012 when the draw is held on Wednesday evening in Bangkok.
Meanwhile, India’s Davis Cup program is clearly at a crossroads.
After being knocked out of the World Group by Serbia in the first round earlier this year, the defeat to Japan puts India back into zonal play in Asia Group One next year.
India did suffer some bad luck both preceding the tie and during it, as doubles specialist Leander Paes was injured during the U.S. Open and unable to travel to Tokyo, while No. 1 Somdev Devvarman suffered an injury to the deltoid muscle in his right shoulder in Friday’s loss to Sugita and could not play on Sunday.
All was not lost, however, as Vishnu Vardhan — Devvarman’s replacement against Nishikori on Sunday — appears a diamond in the rough who has genuine potential.
With Paes now 38, and fellow doubles player Mahesh Bhupathi 37, All India Tennis Association vice president Karti Chidambaram acknowledged that his country has to go in a different direction.
“We definitely are looking to the younger lot,” Chidambara stated. “We need more guys like Vishnu. There are three of four more guys like him who are ready to step up.”
Chidambaram admitted it won’t be easy to replace the multiple Grand Slam doubles champions.
“We will have a big hole to fill when Leander and Bhupathi retire,” he said.
Spain to face Argentina
Novak Djokovic’s ailing back didn’t hold up Sunday, meaning Rafael Nadal won’t have to face his main rival in the Davis Cup final.
Djokovic tried to help Serbia stage a comeback in its semifinal against Argentina despite a lingering back problem, but had to retire when trailing 7-6 (7-5), 3-0 against Juan Martin del Potro. That sent Argentina into the final against Spain, which advanced after Nadal routed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-0, 6-2, 6-4 on clay in Cordoba.
“I feel disappointed to end this tie this way,” Djokovic said. “My condition was 60 percent of what I had expected.”
Argentina ended up winning 3-2 after Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic took the final meaningless match when Juan Monaco retired after losing the first set 6-2. Spain completed a 4-1 win after Fernando Verdasco beat Richard Gasquet in the final match.
Djokovic didn’t play at all Friday, pulling out of the opening singles because his back had not recovered sufficiently from the injury he sustained during Monday’s U.S. Open final victory over Nadal.