Raja goes from being hitting partner to doubles hope of depleted Cup squad
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Indian selectors have punted Day Two doubles duties on a happy-go-lucky journeyman, who had half expected to lose his current partner Divij Sharan to the Davis Cup. Instead, he was plucked from Indian tennis' outer orbits to play Korea as a part of one of the weakest teams in recent years.
Depleted would be an under-statement for this squad, and Raja is left explaining partnering World No 3 Leander Paes with an ultra-defensive: "Leander might be worried about playing with me, but I see it as an absolute honour since I've always been on the periphery."
Raja has never won an ATP round, plies his trade alternating between Challengers and Futures, and will spend the next one week in a team-tennis gig of the Maharshtra Tennis League, the format not remotely taxing on a doubles player. The last of his Challenger titles came at Loughborough alongside protesting player Saketh Myneni two months ago, though in numbers he lies skulking behind Paes, Bhupathi, Bopanna and Divij Sharan on 155.
He's traded a fair share of wins-and-losses with some of his protesting Indian compatriots, but would like to look back on the Loughborough semis against Josh Goodall-Jamie Murray, the second being the operative name, that him and Divij won 12-10 in the third set, for confidence.
He's hit regularly with the big men and bold boys of Indian tennis including Paes and believes he might be able to "get the job done" against Korea. He's not spoken to Paes yet ("He must be busy preparing for the Australian Open.") and looks like he can take a "Does he have grass-court shoes?"— like query in his stride with a stay-brave, chin-up attitude, but a cursory look points to only one thing going his way that can justify this escalator promotion: that he mans the back-hand flanks, an amiable position to what Paes plays, and can qualify to stand at the ad-court.
His pre-season training was, ironically, in the company of Mahesh Bupathi and Rohan Bopanna at one of Mumbai's gymkhanas, albeit as a fringe player, and he admits that the call was out-of-the-blue. "Yes, I wasn't expecting this honestly, but I've been in training, If not for Davis Cup then for the Challengers, if that's what you mean to ask," he says when quizzed on the exacting fitness demands that Paes makes of his partners.
Destiny's been kind to him. He once made an ATP main draw in singles after injury to the opponent in the second qualifying round and then benefitted from a lucky pull-out despite losing his own match later. And he confesses he believes in luck. "Right now I don't know what the pressure will feel like, once on court I'll know if my hand shakes or what happens. I'll still look to get the job done," is his gamely conclusion.
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