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Davis Cup: India in tough battle against Serbia
Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi pulled out of the tie with injuries.
Novi Sad: Birthday boy Rohan Bopanna will have to play out of his skin to give India a winning start against Serb Viktor Troicki in the Davis Cup World Group first round tie here on Friday.
Bopanna, who turns 31, is ranked a lowly 629th place as against his fancied World No. 18 opponent. Troicki was the hero of their maiden win beating Michael Llodra in the deciding fifth rubber and in absence of Serbia's top player, World No. 3 Novak Djokovic, he is leading the challenge as No. 1 player.
Two-time Australian open champion Djokovic pulled out of the tie citing fatigue after winning the Dubai Open.
In the second singles, India's No. 1 Somdev Devvarman (World No. 93) will take on Janko Tipsarevic (World No. 45th), who leads the head-to-head record against the Indian 2-0.
Even though rankings matter little in Davis Cup, the Indians are aware that they have a tough battle against the defending champions.
The Indian team received a major setback on Thursday when the two most experienced campaigners Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi pulled out of the tie with injuries. While Paes is nursing a wrist injury, Bhupathi aggravated his groin problem.
The two multiple Grand Slam winners make the world's most formidable doubles team and were on a 24-match winning streak in Davis Cup. In their absence, Somdev and Bopanna will pair up in doubles tie, having played together in the Commonwealth Games, where they lost the bronze medal match to Paes and Bhupathi.
The two will play doubles expert Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac in Saturday's doubles.
Djokovic's absence should matter little to Serbia who have proven Davis Cup record. But Troicki is not willing to take their opponents lightly.
"I think that many have understood this match was not that important and thus underestimated India but this is not an easy team and far from easy rivals," Troicki said.
"Of course, it would be easier with Novak (Djokovic) in the team but we have the quality to win even without him. But it definitely will not be easy."
As for India, a loss will pull them back in the play-off round. India secured their place in the elite 16 for the second straight year by defeating Brazil 3-2 at home in the World Group play-off.
The two countries are tied 1-1, their last meeting coming in 1988 when Serbia played as Yugoslavia and beat India 3-2 in New Delhi. India's win has come in 1927 when they beat them 3-0 in Zagreb.
First singles: Viktor Troicki (SRB) vs Rohan Bopanna (IND)
Second singles: Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) vs Somdev Devvarman (IND)
Doubles: Ilija Bozoljac/Nenad Zimonjic (SRB) vs Rohan Bopanna/Somdev Devvarman (IND)
First reverse singles: Viktor Troicki (SRB) vs Somdev Devvarman (IND)
Second reverse singles: Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) vs Rohan Bopanna (IND)