Rohan Bopanna was today rewarded for his successful return from a long injury lay-off with a place in the Indian Davis Cup team for the crucial World Group play-off against Sweden to be held here from September 23 to 25.
Making way for Bopanna was Harsh Mankad, named as reserve player in the team of Paes (captain), Bhupathi and Prakash Amritraj.
All India Tennis Association secretary Anil Khanna said the selection committee finalised the team late last night after a discussion with captain Paes, currently playing in the US Open Grand Slam.
"The Committee, however, has conveyed to the captain that it was his prerogative to name the team," Khanna added. As per the Davis Cup rules, a captain reserves the right to alter the team until he presents a four-member final list for the draw, usually made a day before the tie. "Leander can make a change if he feels necessary based on the players' form during the practice," Khanna, also the President of the Asian Tennis Federation, said.
The tie is to be played on the newly laid grass courts at the R K Khanna Stadium.
The Swedes have named a probable team with Mats Wilander as non-playing captain
) and includes Thomas Johansson, Joachim Johansson
, Robin Soderling, Jonas Bjorkman and Michael Ryderstedt.
The last date for the nations to announce the team is September 12.
The winner of the tie would be promoted to the 16-nation World Group next year while the loser would return to Group 1 of their respective zone. Sweden were forced to play the qualifying tie after losing the World Group first round 3-2 to France in March this year.
India has a poor head to head record against the seven-time champions. The hosts have lost all the four ties to Sweden, including two on grass at home. In fact, Vijay Amritraj's 8-6 9-7 win over Wilander in 1985 is the only positive result India has against Sweden.
It has been a fairytale comeback for Bopanna whose career, after the sensational performance in the 2003 World Group play-off against the Netherlands, was derailed by a major shoulder injury. Bopanna returned to the circuit in March this year after a four-month break during when he underwent an operation. Since then, the 25-year old from Coorg has clinched two USD 10,000 titles (in Kuwait and Sri Lanka) besides winning the first leg and reaching the finals of second and third leg in Satellite circuit in Delhi.
His ranking has risen from the above-600s to a career high 309 on the ATP Tour. On prefering Bopanna to Mankad, who has 16 Davis Cup matches under his belt, Khanna said the selectors and the captain felt the former's game was better suited to the surface.
Khanna said the Paes-Bhupathi combo still remained the best doubles pair for India. "We can't think of replacing Leander and Mahesh for the next three years," he said. "They are also very keen to play the 2008 Olympic Games," he added.
With two more key tennis events -- ITF Satellite men's circuit in Delhi and USD 170,000 WTA Tour event in Kolkata -- falling in the same week beginning Sep 19, it could be exciting times for the Indian fans.
Khanna said Bhupathi, whose Globosport own the women's tourney, would not be distracted by additional commitments.
"Leander would head straight back to India after the US Open while Mahesh would be at the venue from Tuesday. Four days of practice should be sufficient for Mahesh," he said.