A full-strength India, led by Sumit Nagal and Prajnesh Gunneswaran, will back themselves for an upset when take on Croatia in the Davis Cup Qualifiers in Zagreb from Friday. The winner of the tie will qualify for the year-end Davis Cup Finals, to be held in November in Madrid.

While Croatia are former champions and the top seeds, their squad for the India tie has only one top-50 singles player. World No 37 Marin Cilic, the former US Open champion, will lead the hosts, with Borna Gojo as the second singles player in the absence of their best-ranked player Borna Coric (33rd).

Gojo is yet to win a match in the Davis Cup, and at world No 277, is ranked well below the two Indian singles players. Both Nagal (127) and Prajnesh (132) are capable of beating Gojo, although they have not yet played him. Ramkumar Ramanathan is set to be benched since Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna will be most likely to play the doubles rubber.

Prajnesh, who missed the last tie because of his marriage, admitted that the lack of a strong second singles player in the rival line-up could work to India’s advantage. “We are hoping to come with our A game. We definitely have a better chance and hopefully, we can capitalise on that. The hard indoor courts suit us,” said Prajnesh.

In case of a tied result in the singles, doubles rubber will be crucial. This could be the last tie for the 46-year-old Paes, who had said that 2020 is his final season as professional. Bidding adieu to the Davis Cup on a winning note will be a high point since he is already the most successful doubles player in the history of the tournament.

India have not won an away tie against a strong opponent for a long time and it seems to be their best chance. They lost to Serbia (2018) and Canada (2017), missing out on World Group qualification.

“We certainly have a chance in this tie. If we get one singles in the bag on Friday, anything can happen. But it’s difficult to swing back if we lose 0-2 on the first day,” India’s non-playing captain Rohit Rajpal told PTI.

“The Croatians are not taking us lightly. They have been watching our sessions. They are big boys, have been around. The courts are medium-paced with low bounce, which suits us,” he added.

“We have been told that it’s a new facility. The Croatian team is very popular since they have been champions. The locals will throng the stadium, cheering for them. We are going as underdogs and I like it like that way,” he said.

The last time the two sides competed against each other, India won 3-2 in New Delhi in 1995 on grass courts.

With PTI Inputs