An Indian tennis contingent has landed in Pakistan for the first time in 60 years. The six-member team will compete against the hosts in a Davis Cup World Group I play-off, starting in Islamabad on Saturday.
In their last meeting in the competition in Pakistan, India emerged as 4-0 winners in Lahore in 1964. Interestingly, Indian coach Zeeshan Ali’s father, Akhtar, was an integral part of the Indian team which won in 1964.
Though India enter the tie on the back of some great highs in the last month, where Sumit Nagal stormed into the second round of the 2024 Australian Open and Rohan Bopanna lifted the men’s doubles title at the Rod Laver Arena to go with his rise to the top of the world rankings, they would be devoid of the services of their two star players against Pakistan.
While Bopanna announced his retirement from Davis Cup last year, Nagal refused to travel to the neighbouring country with the tie slated to be played on grass courts.
India will also be playing sans Sasikumar Mukund – the country’s second ranked singles player behind Nagal, who pulled out of the event citing personal reasons.
The team will also have to make do without the presence of non-playing captain Rohit Rajpal, who was named in the squad but could not travel due to unforseen personal circumstances. Coach Zeeshan will double up as the captain in Rajpal’s absence.
Despite all the hiccups in the lead up, India are expected to have an edge over Pakistan, who have named a highly inexperienced squad for the tie in Islamabad.
While Ramkumar Ramanathan, ranked 461st in the world, will lead the Indian challenge in singles, the 24-year-old Muzammil Murtaza, who is placed 1681, is the highest ranked singles star for Pakistan.
The wide gulf between the quality of players is also evident in doubles, with the experienced Aisam Qureshi, who formed one half of the Indo-Pak Express alongside Bopanna, being the highest ranked Pakistani star at 154. In contrast, three Indians – Yuki Bhambri, N Sriram Balaji, and Saketh Myneni, are among the top 105 in the world.
On the other hands, three Pakistan players – the 42-year-old Aqeel Khan, youngsters Muhammad Shoaib and Barkat Ullah, are unranked in both singles and doubles.
The fact that India lead Pakistan 7-0 in head-to-head results at the Davis Cup also inspires no confidence for the home team.
The last time the two sides met in a Davis Cup encounter, the Indians prevailed 4-0 in 2019. However, Pakistan were without their top players Qureshi and Khan as they pulled out of the contest as a mark of protest after the tie was moved to Kazakhstan.
The All India Tennis Federation had expressed reservations in travelling to Pakistan in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack in February 2019 and the politically tense climate which followed.
The Indian tennis body had lobbied to relocate the tie from Pakistan this time around as well, but the requests fell on deaf years of the International Tennis Federation.
India vs Pakistan Davis Cup head-to-head results
1962: IND beat PAK 5-0 in Lahore (EAS 1st Round)
1963: IND beat PAK 4-1 in Pune (EAS Quarter-Final)
1964: IND beat PAK 4-0 in Lahore (EAS Semi-final)
1970: IND beat PAK 3-1 in Patna (EAS 1st Round)
1973: IND beat PAK 4-0 in Kuala Lumpur (EAS Semi-final)
2006: IND beat PAK 3-2 in Mumbai (Group I Asia/Oceania 1st Round)
2019: IND beat PAK 4-0 in Nur-Sultan (Group I Asia/Oceania 1st Round)
India’s last Davis Cup appearance was a 4-1 win over Morocco in Lucknow. That victory, however, was not without any hiccups as Mukund fell to a loss in the first singles, before Nagal and doubles pair of Bopanna-Bhambri pulled them out of the trouble. The team was promoted to World Group I following the win in September last year as Bopanna hung his boots.
Though the numbers and odds are stacked in their favour, India cannot afford to take Pakistan lightly, not when they have been bolstered by the experience of Qureshi and Khan unlike their last clash.
India: Ramkumar Ramanathan, N Sriram Balaji, Yuki Bhambri, Saketh Myneni, Niki Kaliyanda Poonacha, Digvijay Pratap Singh (reserve), Zeeshan Ali (captain and coach)
Pakistan: Muzammil Murtaza, Aisam Qureshi, Aqeel Khan, Muhammad Shoaib, Barkat Ullah, Muhammad Abid (captain)