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19 September 2011

Japan and India head in different directions


NEWS ARTICLE

By 

  • Jack Gallagher

Photo: Takeo TanumaKei Nishikori (JPN)

Our reporter in Tokyo, Jack Gallagher, reviews the weekend's action at the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off at the Ariake Coliseum, where Japan were promoted and India were relegated.

The Japan v India tie over the weekend revealed the tennis fortunes of two nations moving in different directions.

Japan captured the tie 4-1 behind stellar play from No. 1 Kei Nishikori and No. 2 Yuichi Sugita, who won their three combined singles matches all in straight sets. The victories moved Japan back into the World Group for the first time since 1985.

With Nishikori just 21, and Sugita, the story of the weekend, having turned 23 on the tie's final day, Japan clearly has a youthful foundation to build upon for the future as it prepares to take on more powerful opponents.

Japanese captain Eiji Takeuchi admits that this is part of the plan he envisions for the future of his country's Davis Cup program. "We are aiming to create a talent pool of younger players," he said. "When I first took over as captain, the average age of our players was over 30, but not anymore."

Takeuchi wants to work to improve the team he has while simultaneously identifying more talent. "With Sugita, (Go) Soeda and (Tatsuma) Ito, we want to raise the level of their games," he added. "We are looking to the younger players going forward, especially in the doubles. We have changed our development plans."

Takeuchi says the Japan Tennis Association is making a concerted effort to prepare players to compete at the international level. "We are selecting players one by one and training them to play on the Tour," he noted. "This program and our National Training Center in Tokyo are a very important part of our plans."

Japan will learn who it will play in its World Cup first round tie in 2012 when the draw is held on Wednesday evening in Bangkok.

Meanwhile, India's Davis Cup program is clearly at a crossroads. After being knocked out of the World Group by Serbia in the first round earlier this year, the defeat to Japan puts India back into zonal play in Asia/Oceania Group I next year.

India did suffer some bad luck both preceding the tie and during it, as doubles specialist Leander Paes was injured during the US Open and unable to travel to Tokyo, while No. 1 Somdev Devvarman suffered an injury to the deltoid muscle in his right shoulder in Friday's loss to Sugita and could not play on Sunday.

All was not lost, however, as Vishnu Vardhan - Devvarman's replacement against Nishikori on Sunday - appears a diamond in the rough who has genuine potential.

With Paes now 38, and fellow doubles player Mahesh Bhupathi 37, All India Tennis Association vice president Karti Chidambaram acknowledged that his country has to go in a different direction. "We definitely are looking to the younger lot," he stated. "We need more guys like Vishnu. There are three of four more guys like him who are ready to step up."

Chidambaram admitted it won't be easy to replace the multiple Grand Slam doubles champions. "We will have a big hole to fill when Leander and Bhupathi retire," he said.

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Related ties

JPN Flag Japan v India IND Flag 16-18 Sep 2011 View details

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  • More photos

    • Kei Nishikori (JPN)Eiji Takeuchi and Kei Nishikori (JPN)
    • Vishnu Vardhan (IND)Tatsuma Ito and Yuichi Sugita (JPN)
     
 
  • OUR REPORTER IN TOKYO

    Jack Gallagher

    Jack Gallagher is the sports editor of The Japan Times in Tokyo. Named a Top 10 columnist by the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work in 2004, he has been a sports journalist in Japan for more than 15 years. He has covered numerous events both domestically and internationally, including the Super Bowl, World Cup and Olympics.

  • JAPAN V INDIA

     flagJapan
    4 : 1
     flagIndia

    Ariake Coliseum, Tokyo, Japan

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