New Delhi, Sep 17: India are expected to face a tough battle when they take on top seeds Czech Republic in the Davis Cup World Group play-off at the RK Khanna Stadium here on Friday.
With a spot in the elite World Group at stake, the hosts have been boosted by the return of old warhorse Leander Paes.
Paes, who has won three Grand Slam titles this year, is in red-hot form. His presence will be a huge boost for the hosts, who were extremely close to achieving promotion but were edged out in a deciding fifth rubber by Serbia in last year's play-offs. They last time they were in the World Group was in 2011.
The Indians will also bank on home conditions with the Delhi heat putting the Czechs in obvious discomfort duirng their practice sessions over the past couple of days.
The visitors have left their highest ranked player world No. 6 Thomas Berdych at home, but still pack enough firepower to be considered overwhelming favourites to emerge triumphant and retain their spot in the World Group.
The top seeds, who have won the Davis Cup thrice in the past, lost 2-3 to Australia at home in March while the home team are going into the tie after winning 3-2 against New Zealand in an away tie.
The Czechs have never lost to India in three meetings, although their last tie was way back in 1997 and they are expected to maintain their perfect record this time around as well.
On Friday, India's numero uno singles player Yuki Bhambri - ranked 125th in the world - will open the proceedings against Lukas Rosol (85) while Somdev Devarman (164) will play next against world no. 40 Jiri Vesley in the second singles.
"I always wanted to play first and hope to give a good start to the team. It puts less pressure on you," Yuki said. "I want to make a good start and put the Czechs under pressure. I can play freely at 0-0."
The experienced doubles combination of Paes and Rohan Bopanna will be up against Radek Stepanek and Adam Pavlasek on Saturday. The reverse single are slated for Sunday.
The Czechs boast of much pedigree and experience in the singles with Rosol and Vesley expected to be tough nuts to crack for Yuki and Somdev. In the doubles rubber, the experienced Radek Stephanek - who has won Grand Slam titles alongside Paes - could be a dangerous competitior.
India's non-playing captain Anand Amritraj expects the tie to be difficult, but asserted that the Indians are ready to produce a strong fight.
"To enter the World Group a team needs players in the top 100 and the Czechs have... We will definitely put our best foot forward but it will be a tough tie for us," Amritraj told reporters on the eve of the three-day event.
Amritraj, however, was happy with the draw. "The draw has come out exactly as they wanted," he said. "It's slightly easier to play first match and Som had to see and wait how it goes (and plan accordingly)."
The slow courts at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA) favour the Indian players' style and the Delhi heat and humidity is also expected to play a role as the matches are starting at 10 a.m.
"Heat is definitely going to be a big factor, it is going to be 37, 38 degress in the afternoon. However fit you are, to concentrate for three sets mentally and physically won't be easy," Amritraj said.