And so he came. Casper Ruud made the trip across the Atlantic – days after finishing as a Grand Slam runner-up for the second time – up to Lillehammer, two hours north of Oslo.
Yuki Bhambri, on Tuesday, talked about how the Indians were earlier rooting for the new world No 2, hoping he’d win the US Open, be a little bit drained with the felicitations in New York perhaps, and decide to skip the upcoming Davis Cup World Group 1 tie against India.
But Ruud is a strapping 23-year-old, raring to compete in the Davis Cup – he’s missed just one tie for his country since making his debut in 2015. Even if it comes just a few days after a draining two weeks in New York.
“He’s young, fresh and strong. I don’t think he will have any problem playing all the matches here,” Anders Haseth, Norway’s non-playing Davis Cup captain said earlier at a press conference.
Norwegian tennis’ biggest weapon ever will be unleashed against the Indians when the tie starts on Friday. But the visitors are banking on their strength in numbers.
Granted, Norway has the second-best player in the world in their ranks, but there’s a gulf between their No 1 and No 2 – a gap the Indians hope to expose.
Davis Cup: Yuki Bhambri on facing Casper Ruud’s Norway – ‘This is the type of tie India has to win’
As was declared in the draw ceremony on Thursday, Ruud will start proceedings against Prajnesh Gunneswaran a former top 100 player from Chennai who is currently ranked 335. The second match on Friday though is the one where India will pin their hopes, as the country’s No 1 singles player Ramkumar Ramanathan (ranked 276 and 67 in doubles) plays world No 325 Viktor Durasovic.
The aim will be to end Day 1 with at least one win in the best-of-five match format.
On Day 2, the in-form Yuki Bhambri and Saketh Myneni (who recently broke into the top 100 doubles rankings) – winners of five Challenger and two Futures doubles titles together this year – will play doubles against Ruud and Durasovic. The Indians are favourites for that rubber given their form and the fact that Ruud is not an experienced doubles player.
This doubles pairing option was made available for the Davis Cup when the country’s star doubles specialist Rohan Bopanna had to withdraw due to knee injury.
“We were lucky that Saketh was playing in France with Yuki and even though it was last minute, he made himself available. They have been having a good season and have been playing regularly for the past few months,” said India’s Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali.
As per the draw, Ruud will then face Ramkumar in the fourth rubber should the tie go that far, and then Prajnesh will face Durasovic in the decider. Both teams though do have the option of fielding the other players available for the reverse singles matches.
Bhambri, a former top 100 player himself is well equipped with playing singles. So is Sumit Nagal, who is currently making his way back on tour after a long injury.
The Norwegians though don’t have that great a depth in terms of bench strength. Lukas Hellum Lilleengen is ranked 1211, and they have the unranked Simen Sunde Bratholm and Nicolai Budkov Kjaer nominated for the tie. Which is why they have gone all in on Ruud.
In other words, it is likely to be a two-man Norwegian team versus an Indian team that has four of its top 5 singles players present. And the visitors are confident, especially since they managed to spend some good time in Norway in an attempt to acclimatise to the conditions.
“We arrived in Oslo on (September 8) and had a few days of training here for three days. It was important to come in a few days earlier as the boys haven’t played indoors the whole summer and they needed to get used to the conditions,” Ali added.
“We’re playing indoors, so conditions are very different from what our players are used to. The court is newly laid in a stadium which was used for the 1994 Winter Olympics. The court is medium paced and low bouncing. I’m sure we should be ready by Friday.”
The winning team will progress to the World Group Qualifiers, while the losers will drop down to the World Group 1 Playoffs.
The last time India played at this level, they lost to Finland in an away tie last year, but then beat Denmark in New Delhi in March to make it back to World Group 1.
The threat of Ruud looms large, but Bhambri asserted that this is the only route the team should expect if they’re to get to the higher echelons of the tournament.
“These are the type of ties we have to win. We’ve had success, sometimes we haven’t. For me it’s motivation, but we have to give the best we can,” he had added.
“If we do play to the best of our abilities, I see no reason why we shouldn’t progress.”
Match 1 (singles): Casper Ruud vs Prajnesh Gunneswaran
Match 2 (singles): Viktor Durasovic vs Ramkumar Ramanathan
Match 3 (doubles): Casper Ruud and Viktor Durasovic vs Yuki Bhambri and Saketh Myneni
Match 4 (singles): Casper Ruud vs Ramkumar Ramanathan
Match 5 (singles): Viktor Durasovic vs Prajnesh Gunneswaran
Matches on Friday start at 21:30 hrs IST. Matches on Saturday start at 17:30 hrs IST
The matches will be live on Eurosport.