What do you do when you have a Davis Cup tie in three days against a bunch of teens in a freezing Central Asian city currently experiencing daytime temperatures of -12 degree Celsius? Blow smoke rings into the air with your breath, flaunt your moonwalk moves and talk about what else but the weather.
It's what a few enterprising members of the Indian team got together to do at a snow-blanketed parking lot in the Kazakh capital of Nur-Sultan on Tuesday. A willing cameraman in Saketh Myneni, physio Yash Pandey holding up a broom head for a mic and Sumit Nagal and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan offering misty, sardonic insights before breaking off into a song-dance act, nicely offset the grey and gloom of the weather.
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"Breaking News" Exclusive coverage from Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan where Team India is ready to take on Pakistan. Jeevan And Sumit talking about the weather conditions here and also giving insights on the vital mobility and injury prevention! Cast in order of appearance : @jntennis @nagalsumit @physiofit.india (Anchor -Yash Pandey) @sakethmyneni ( Our cameraman Saketh Myneni) @tigerjackieshroff @hrithikroshan Stay tuned for more updates !!! #breakingnews #exclusivecoverage #dayone #Daviscup #indiavspakistan #teamindia #frozenriver #freezingweather #balancetraining #weathercomparison #indiantennis #sarcasm #physioturnedreporter #funnyinterview #footworktips #bleedblue #twinning
The 12-member Indian side, including two physios, landed from New Delhi to Nur-Sultan's undulating snow, layered in woolens on Monday. This, after the seemingly ceaseless saga over the venue that began in August and only ended a week ago. In the melee, AITA picked a fresh non-playing captain for the tie in Rohit Rajpal with then-incumbent Mahesh Bhupathi expressing his displeasure in travelling to Pakistan.
Originally scheduled for September 14 & 15 in Islamabad, Nur Sultan was announced as the venue for the Asia/Oceania Group 1 tie between India and Pakistan following safety concerns raised by the All India Tennis Association (AITA) and the ITF's independent security advisors endorsing a shift. As a measure of protest against a neutral venue, both of Pakistan's top players - Aqueel Khan and Aisam ul Haq Qureshi - pulled out of the tie. On its part, the Pakistan Tennis Federation replaced the sulking seniors with 17-year-olds Hufaiza Abdul Rehman and Shoaib Khan, placed 446 and 1004 respectively in the junior ITF rankings. Ahmed Kamil and Yousuf Khan, also teenagers, apart from Amjad make up the rookie Pakistan side. An exercise that the PTF terms as an 'exposure trip for its junior team'.
Tennis wise, India really have little to worry about. There are more daunting tasks at hand - for instance, managing tickets to the already sold-out Europa League group match between Manchester United match and Astana FC at the Astana Arena, less than 6km away from the National Tennis Centre, on Thursday. The current plan is for Leander Paes, the most earnest United fan in the Indian side, together with coach Zeeshan Ali and Rajpal to attend the match. An offer 31-year-old Jeevan, who is likely to make his Davis Cup debut this weekend partnering Paes, is glad to pass up on. "Good for them. I'm an Arsenal fan, so yeah, there's no way I'm going," he tells ESPN. "I'm excited about the tie. Leander is a legend so you end up learning a lot just sticking around him."
The two-day tie - which will have two singles rubbers played on the first day and the second day bringing doubles action together with two reverse singles - will be played on insulated, indoor hard courts. Ramkumar Ramanathan and Sumit are expected to lead the singles charge and if India win this tie, they will have 2018 champs Croatia waiting for them in the 2020 qualifiers.
An Indian team member jokes that Islamabad may have been the better venue choice for its cuisine. The traditional Kazakh Nomadic fare (read: horsemeat) can wait. In the days ahead of a tie, gastronomical adventures would only count as Quixotic. "Thankfully," says coach Zeeshan Ali, "our team manager [Sunder Iyer] has packed in lots of Indian snacks with him, so we're binging on them."
*An earlier version of this story wrongly attributed a "beer" quote to Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan. The reference has been removed, and the headline and story have been amended.