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TENNIS Zeeshan ready to battle the odds

New India Davis Cup coach delighted to emulate his father

By Gautam Bhattacharyya, Sports Editor
January 9, 2013
Image Credit: Asghar Khan/Gulf News Archive

Dubai: These may not be the best of times for Zeeshan Ali to have taken over as the coach of India’s Davis Cup team, but the former Dubai resident is game for the challenge.

“I don’t know who will be available for the South Korea tie but we will have to give it our best shot,” said Ali, a former international and ex-coach of the UAE Davis Cup outfit.

The All India Tennis Association (AITA) is set to announce the squad for the February 2-4 tie on Friday, but with the standoff between players and the federation showing no signs of thawing, there is a question mark over the availability of leading players like Somdev Devvarman, Rohan Bopanna and veteran Mahesh Bhupathi.

Despite this, Ali, who has replaced Nandan Bal as coach, is confident of slipping into his new role successfully thanks to his experience as a top player and 17 years as a coach.

Indian tennis has always been dominated by a family culture of sorts and Ali’s family occupies a special place as his father Akhtar Ali also served the Davis Cup team in multiple capacities as a player, coach and captain for decades.

“It’s a great honour. Much as I had harboured the ambition of emulating dad one day, I never expected it to come so soon. It was a surprise call from the federation a few days back and I did not think twice before agreeing to it,” the 42-year-old told Gulf News.

Soon after his playing career finished in the mid-1990s, Ali set up base in Dubai and stayed for 15 years, during which he established himself as a leading coach on the local circuit and was also appointed as UAE coach. During the hot summer months of July and August, he travelled to the US to be a consultant coach at the Harry Hopman Tennis Academy in Florida, while also being roped in by the Pat Cash Academy in Brisbane, Australia.

While this enriched his CV as a coach, Ali has been out of mainstream Indian tennis for a while — though he doesn’t see that as a major problem.

“While I have not had much interaction with the younger set of players, I don’t see that as an issue as I am very much in touch with the modern game and can be hands-on with them and spend a good seven hours a day on the courts,” Ali said.

How different does he perceive his role as a coach who groomed young players to that of handling the pressure of a Davis Cup team with super egos, media pressure and the great expectations?

“This is where my experience as a Davis Cup player will come in handy, in match situations, while I have a vast exposure of interaction with top players and coaches round the world,” said Ali, who was India’s number one singles player when Leander Paes made his cup debut in 1990 against Japan.

He is also perceived as a candidate who is free of the “baggage” of belonging to any of the camps in Indian tennis. As to how he manages to use it for the benefit of the team, only time will tell.

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