The AITA selection committee is scheduled to meet on Monday to pick the squad for the upcoming Asia/Oceania Zone tie against Uzbekistan and one of the things to be discussed in the meeting will be whether or not to pick Leander Paes in the squad. The selectors are yet to figure out whether to pick two singles players or three for the tie. Ramkumar Ramanathan, Yuki Bhambri and Rohan Bopanna pick themselves in the squad due to their superior rankings while Saketh Myneni, who pulled out of the New Zealand tie in the last minute, and Sumit Nagal are not available for selection due to injuries.
Myneni, when fit can play both singles and doubles events but with injury ruling him out, it is now a question of whether to go with three singles players or two doubles specialists. In a scenario where the selectors wish to go with three singles players, Bopanna is more of an automatic choice because of his world ranking. Bopanna is the highest-placed Indian doubles player with a world ranking of 24.
The big-server who was dropped from the side, despite being higher in rank than Paes, in the previous tie in February is likely to get back in the team. Bopanna along with his Polish partner Marcin Matkowski reached the men's doubles final of the just-concluded Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship. In his run-up to the final, Bopanna got the better of Leander Paes and his partner Gracia Gulliermo-Lopez in the semi-final.
If the selectors go by the rankings, Paes is all but certain to lose out on a place since he is placed fourth at number 62 with both Divij Sharan (54) and Purav Raja (56) now ahead of him.
To make things more complicated, if the selectors choose to go with both Paes and Bopanna then the team will be only left with Yuki and Ramkumar to fight it out in the singles and a case of an injury breakdown, neither Paes nor Bopanna can be a choice to play in the singles.
Even if the Committee decides to have two singles players, left-handed Sharan and Raja may not be ignored this time with AITA officials going on record to say that they would like to give youngsters a chance to be in the team.
In that scenario, it looks like Paes will lose his place and he will have to wait for the record-breaking 43rd doubles win in Davis Cup.
The question would then be about the third singles player. There are two contenders -- Tamil Nadu boys Prajnesh Gunneswaran and N Sriram Balaji.
Gunneswaran was in the side for the New Zealand tie in Pune, where India triumphed 4-1.
The Asia/Oceania second-round tie, first for Mahesh Bhupathi as non-playing captain, is scheduled for April 7-9 in Bengaluru and the winner will advance to the World Group Play-off stage.
World number 68 Denis Istomin is likely to lead the visiting side. Istomin, who stunned Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open second round earlier this year, had played a pivotal role in his side's 3-1 win over Korea in the first round.
He won both his singles and the doubles rubber with Sanjar Fayziev to shape Uzbekistan's win in the away tie.
(With PTI Inputs)