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 in Kolkata from Friday. 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.
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, Cecchinato won two ATP 250 titles last year, both on clay and it remains to be seen how the top-ranked Italian adjusts to grass.
Italy also has doubles specialist in Simone Bolelli, the 2015 Australian Open winner, while 22-year-old Matteo Baerrettini, the youngest member of the side will give X-factor to the visitors.
India lost 0-4 to Serbia in their World Group play-off clash in Kraljevo and the upcoming tie will be a litmus test for non-playing captain Bhupathi with reports indicating that his contract may not be renewed.
“It had rained whole night and the referee had booked return tickets. But we worked whole night to get the court ready. In the morning, the referee came and said it is ‘Indian black magic’ and we won. Their big serving player Marc Rosset almost looked redundant,” Bengal Tennis Association COO Sujoy Ghosh recalled.