Istomin defied the dire predictions through sheer determination and hard work, and today, appears self-assured about his game. And for good reason. After all, the player from Tashkent is enjoying his career-best ranking (184), and is coming off a second-round appearance at the Australian Open—where he raised a few eyebrows by stretching former world number one Lleyton Hewitt to four sets before bowing out.
"It was my mother who made me believe I would play again. She would tell me, ’go play, because you can!’," says Istomin, as the memory makes him smile. "But maybe it’s better I had to go through that difficult time. Perhaps I am a better player than what I would have been if I had not had that accident. I believe in myself."
Having traversed that difficult journey already, maybe the current task is puny in comparison. Exuding optimism as the Uzbeks prepare to take on India next weekend, Istomin insists they are ready to play. "Our practice is going good. Our game is strong, our grass court shoes are ready," he says, after the end of a practice session at the DLTA Complex today.
A headstart on practice they may have got, but playing the Indians on grass is another issue altogether. The absence of grass courts in Uzbekistan means it is imperative they get in a feel of the surface before the tie. At the moment, though, they have to be satisfied with getting a hit on the DLTA hard courts. The National Sports Club of India grass courts will be available only from the weekend, and this gives them a little less than a week to prepare. Their focus remains on getting the singles in the bag. "We are strong in the singles, and we will target winning those. We’ll see how it goes. Rohan is a good player, he serves and volleys, which is a big advantage on grass. Prakash has defeated me on grass before in Davis Cup, so they will be tough matches. And India are good in doubles too. But I am confident we can pull it off," grins Istomin, as he heads back to his team members. Farrukh Dustov, Sarvar Ikramov and Vaja Uzakov comprise the rest of the Uzbekistan squad.
The lowdown on Uzbekistan
Davis Cup debut: 1994
Ties played (w-l): 37 (24-13)
Years in World Group: 0
2007 results (Asia Oceania Group 1): Defeated India 4-1 in Uzbekistan (first round), lost to Korea Republic 0-5 in Korea(semi-final)
•Uzbekistan have played only two Davis Cup ties on grass, their win-loss record is all square at 1-1
•They had lost to India on the surface 0-5 in Jaipur in 2005, while as far back as 1996, Pakistan had succumbed to the Uzbeks by the same 5-0 margin