The World Group play-off Draw was held on Tuesday July 21, 2015 at ITF headquarters in London as per which India face the Czech Republic, one of the toughest teams among the seeded nations. Switzerland and Czech Republic are the strongest Davis Cup sides, who, between them, have held the Davis Cup title since 2012. India’s task will, therefore, be highly challenging against the Czech Republic team, who is the top ranked side with 30,700 ITF Davis Cup ranking points. Reigning champions Switzerland are at second place but the gap is huge at 22,913 ranking points. India’s current position is 21 and their ITF ranking points are just 1951. So there is a built-in handicap with not even one singles player, who could match the class of world no.6 Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek, who was once world no.10. However, in recent times, Stepanek has cut down on his singles appearances and mostly plays doubles, where he is ranked as no.33.
Last week, India marched to the world-group play-off after defeating New Zealand 3-2 in Group I second round match. Earlier in March 2015, the Czech team had lost 2-3 to Australia in the World Group first round but the squad didn’t have the services of both Berdych and Stepanek. At this point, it is not known whether Berdych and Stepanek would be part of the team, when the Czechs visit India in September, 2015. Regardless, even the world no.44 Jiri Vesley and world no.54 Lukas Rosol will have an edge over India’s Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri. Although India will have the home advantage at Pune or Delhi, the two venues short-listed for the play-off matches, that itself would not be enough against Davis Cup’s top ranked team. The last time the two sides played each other was in 1997 when India had travelled to Pribram, where they lost 2-3. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi had played all singles and doubles matches. Before that India had also lost to the erstwhile Czechoslovakia in 1986 and 1926.
It is unfortunate for the country that Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathy cannot play the doubles rubber, because their personal animosity takes precedence over national interests. India’s coach Zeeshan Ali told media that anything is possible in Davis Cup citing India’s good performance last year against Serbia despite losing the tie 2-3 in the deciding fifth rubber. Against New Zealand at Christchurch last week, India trailed 1-2 after the doubles rubber but inspired performances from Somdev and Yuki on final day helped them to a 3-2 win.
The rest of Tuesday’s draw produced interesting results. USA, the Davis Cup’s most successful team will travel to Uzbekistan for their match. In the last 35 years, USA were out of the World Group just once in 1988 and Uzbekistan will find it difficult playing US even with the home advantage. 2014 champion Switzerland lost to Belgium in the first round as Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka didn’t play. The Swiss will host the Netherlands in the play-off. Colombia has a chance to avenge their playoff loss to Japan in 2013 in Tokyo as Japan travels to Colombia for September’s play-offs. Brazil will host Croatia. Both nations started this year in the World Group and look equally matched. Poland will host Slovakia and can reach the elite for the first time. Italy go to Russia and with a 4-1 record against the Russians, the Italians look the favorites. Lastly, Germany will travel to the Dominican Republic, who have been competing in Davis Cup only since 1989. The Caribbean side may find it tough against Germany despite the home advantage.
All play-off ties will get underway in the same weekend that sees the staging of 2015 world group semifinals during September 18-20 2015. The winners will play in 2016 World Group while the losers compete in their respective Zones.
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