From the fringes, into the Davis Cup spotlight
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It is perhaps the inexperience of India's singles players Ranjeet and Vijayant Malik in handling the task of representing the country, both on and off the court, that led Paes, a veteran of 48 ties, to term the home side "underdogs" in this Asia/ Oceania Group I clash.
Ranjeet and Malik may have toughened up on the circuit but being thrust into the national limelight is very different to their experiences so far in Futures and Challenger level tournaments.
Ever since Ranjeet, 27, turned pro in 2005, he has spent six summers in a team set-up, playing for the Oldenburg tennis club in a German league, Nord Liga, but the Davis Cup call and winning the Nationals title in 2008 have been the biggest moments in the Chennai player's career. Though he has never won a Futures singles title, he feels his experience of playing for his club in Germany will come in handy when he takes on the South Koreans.
Malik was initiated into the sport in Panipat, by his father, who wanted his son to wear the glistening whites he saw the players in, while watching the sport for the first time in a TV broadcast of Wimbledon. Malik, at that time, was five. Since then, for Malik, it was a tussle between pleasing his father, a sports enthusiast, and his mother, a schoolteacher who wanted her son to excel in studies. When Malik became the country's best ranked player in the U-14, U-16 and U-18 levels, his mother became resigned to the fact that he would never really be the academic topper she wanted him to be. "Now she tells me to just pass the BA exams," says the 22-year-old Malik.
Malik's career took flight when he shifted from Chandigarh to Delhi two years ago to train under Aditya Sachdeva, along with Yuki Bhambri, Divij Sharan and Vivek Shokeen. After a number of bridesmaid finishes in Futures, he finally won a title in Vietnam last September.
"I have to keep a strong head and I'm prepared for it," Malik, ranked 537, says.
Hopefully for him and Ranjeet, the crowd turnout will match the numbers the rookies are counting on.
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