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India bank on Prajnesh, CSC grass courts to upset Italy

India bank on Prajnesh, CSC grass courts to upset Italy
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India would rely heavily on inform Prajnesh Gunneswaran and favourable home conditions to upset former champions Italy in their bid to qualify for the...

Kolkata: India would rely heavily on in-form Prajnesh Gunneswaran and favourable home conditions to upset former champions Italy in their bid to qualify for the inaugural Davis Cup Group Finals when the two teams clash in the Qualifiers starting here from Friday.

At the official draw on the eve of their matches, Italy pulled a surprise on India when they left out their top-ranked Marco Cecchinato out of the singles draw, naming veteran Andreas Seppi and Matteo Berrettini, who will make Davis Cup debut at 22 years.

Ramkumar Ramanathan will take on world number 37 Seppi, while Berrettini is seen to lend the X-factor to the side as he will face India number one Prajnesh in the opening day's rubbers. Cecchinato has been named in the doubles and he would partner the 2015 Australian Open doubles winner Simone Bolelli against India's formidable duo of Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan.

The rejigged Davis Cup enters a new era with 12 qualifiers across the globe on the road to Madrid Finals in November. Against a team which leads 4-1 on head-to-head record, India have returned to their favourite Calcutta South Club (CSC) grass courts after 16 years. The venue boasts of an impressive 8-2 win-loss record for India, including the solitary victory over Italy in the 1985’s World Group 1st Round. “It’s grass, not clay! Maybe next time, we will play on clay against India. We have nothing to complain,” said 1976 Davis Cup winner Corrado Barazzutti, the non-playing captain of Italy.

Another boost for India is the shortened format. The popular ‘home-away’ format has been retained for the qualifiers and the ties now will be held in two days with two singles on Friday and a doubles plus two return singles on Saturday. Matches will now be played over best-of-three sets in place of gruelling best of five, adding to the unpredictability factor and Italy, despite having three of their five players inside top-50, cannot breathe easy. India’s non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi has already said there is no room for excuses for the home side and would be banking on their top-ranked singles player Prajnesh (102) to get the hosts off the block.

The big-serving southpaw, who is fresh from making his Grand Slam debut at the Australian Open, achieved one of the best wins of his career on grass when he shocked Canada's Denis Shapovalov, the current world number 25.

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