The bad news from the Kazakh capital of Nur-Sultan is that the weather is still scarily chilly at -17 degree Celsius. The good news is that four members of the Indian Davis Cup team managed tickets to Thursday's Europa League clash between Manchester United and FC Astana despite the host club receiving over 300,000 ticket applications - at least 10 times more than Astana Arena's capacity of 30,254.
Leander Paes, together with coach Zeeshan Ali, captain Rohit Rajpal and official Prem Karra, with a little help from the president of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation, managed to get their hands on what Zeeshan calls, "the best seats in the house." With the tie against Pakistan beginning on Friday, singles players were left out of this outing.
The outside courts caked in snow, Indian players have been training for at least five hours in the indoor courts daily since their arrival at the start of this week. Temperatures between both are vastly different. While the steady snowfall outside calls for being swathed in a minimum of four layers of thermal wear, inside, courtesy the controlled heating system, temperatures hover between 17-25 degree Celsius and has players peeling off their jackets and changing into shorts and jerseys.
"After long sessions on court in heated conditions, the body gets acclimatised to the temperature and the mind is lulled into believing that it's how it is outside as well. So that's something we have to constantly keep reminding ourselves," says Zeeshan. "AITA (All India Tennis Association) thankfully got all of us really premium quality winter wear, or what most of us had on us was good enough only to brave Delhi winters at best. So this has literally been a life-saver."
For some players on the Indian team, the calendar for the year doesn't wind down with the November 29-30 Pakistan tie. While Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan and Saketh Myneni will be travelling to Kathmandu for the South Asian Games that get underway on December 1, a few others have Challenger events to jet off to. "Our training sessions," Zeeshan adds, "have been tailored in a way to preserve their bodies. We don't want to push the players too much since they have other tournaments after this also chalked for the year." Two physios, old-timer Anand Dubey and Yash Pandey, who's been associated with Indian players on the tour since 2012, have been working overtime to that end.
"Most of our players are not used to such extreme cold conditions. The warmest in the last four days was -10 degree Celsius. The warm-ups we are getting players to do here are a lot more than what we would at regular tournaments," says Yash. "Daily, we spend 40-45 minutes on multiple mobility, activation and footwork drills, ensuring that the players are really warm and start sweating even before they have touched their rackets. Similarly, we devote almost 90 minutes on each player for their cool-down stretches and massages to make sure their body recovers well."
The team isn't too worried about the tie itself. It's a lopsided contest on paper, with Pakistan sending its junior players in mock protest over the matches being shifted out of Islamabad, to a neutral venue. Zeeshan believes in pulling out of the tie, Pakistan's top two players, Aqeel Khan and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi may have overreacted. "It's sad that it has come to this," he says, "Pakistan is not new to playing a tie on a neutral venue. It has happened several times before and we had sufficient reason to demand a shift this time, which the ITF also endorsed. We had a look at their players who have come here. They're hitting the ball well but most of them are juniors and it can be intimidating when you have someone like Leander across the net."
Some members of the Indian team though have been making up for the bizarre weather and a light encounter on the cards, with daily video posts on social media. The exercise, Yash says, cropped up out of a random idea to step outdoors to click pictures. "We were just standing around after breakfast after we arrived and I asked Sumit and Jeevan to join me outside for pictures. While doing that, we thought of making a video just for people back in India to know how bad the weather conditions here are in a funny way. The best part is all our videos are done in a single take, without any script. So we're just making up our lines as we go along."
Day 3 reporting from Astana !!! . Thank you to the most sporting ambassador ( Hon. Prabhat Kumar) for helping us make another day by day report of our Kazakhstan Davis cup adventure. # Bleedblue # TeamIndia #suitup #Daviscup #indiavspakistan #Tennis #instagood #instadaily #indiantennis #funnyinterview . Cast in order of appearance : @jntennis @nagalsumit @physiofit.india @leanderpaes @hindustantimes @indianexpress @espnindia @starsportsindia @tennischannel @thetimesofindia @sakethmyneni ( Our cameraman Saketh Myneni) Stay tuned for more updates !!! . Disclaimer- My videos are just for laughs and at no point do we intend to disrespect anyone!
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In their latest dispatch from the official dinner on the Indian ambassador's invitation, holding up forks, knives and spoons for mics, Jeevan, Sumit, Leander and Yash break into tardy dance moves. An amused ambassador, Prabhat Kumar, can only helplessly offer, "I hope your tennis is better."