New Delhi, September 6: India's Davis Cup captain Mahesh Bhupathi on Thursday (September 6) defended the selection of N Sriram Balaji ahead of higher-ranked Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan and Purav Raja for the tie against Serbia saying he opted for team balance.
Balaji was included in the side for the September 14-16 away tie as a replacement for Divij Sharan, who pulled out due to a tear in his serving shoulder. Saketh Myneni replaced Yuki Bhambri after Sumit Nagal refused to play the tie citing the Challenger Tour.
Balaji, 28, is now set to play his second tie having made a winning debut against Uzbekistan, last year. AITA usually picks players on rankings but shunned the policy when it was forced to pick a replacement after both Sharan and Yuki Bhambri pulled out due to injuries.
"I wanted a balanced team. We have a lefty in Prajnesh Gunneswaran already and I wanted someone who can serve big as well," Bhupathi said when asked about the logic behind the selection.
Balaji is ranked 110th, while the left-handed Nedunchezhiyan and Raja are inside top-100, at 88 and 89 respectively. "There is no doubles versus singles in Davis Cup. You always factor the opposition, surface, conditions and combinations. If you just go down the ranking as a compliance exercise every time, I don't think we can achieve the right combination of players to try and win the tie," Bhupathi added.
AITA selection committee chairman S P Misra said the decision was based purely on the recommendation of the non-playing captain. "Rohan Bopanna and Balaji had played an excellent match against Uzbekistan (in Bengaluru, in April 2017). Their combination was good, so on captain's advise we picked Balaji. Also, there was no time to ask for the availability of other players because only yesterday morning we got to know about Divij and Yuki's unavailability," Misra said.
A source privy to the selection said Jeevan was not suited for clay courts. "On clay, you need someone who can hit the ball very hard. With someone like Jeevan it won't work on clay. All these factors were considered while making a decision, so Balaji was a better choice," the source said.
However, Nedunchezhiyan's results this year show that out of his seven finals on the ATP Challenger Tour, two were on the clay courts of Savannah and Tallahassee in the US. So, he has won three titles this season and ended runner-up in four, out of which two were on clay.
Asked about Purav Raja, another source said the AITA was not happy with the way he played in the World Group Play-off tie against Canada in September 2017. "He did not play according to the expectations in the against Canada, so he was not considered," said the source.