After a dramatic opening day on Friday in the Davis Cup tie against Chinese Taipei, the Indian team was, as Yuki Bhambri put it, ‘coming to terms’ with their top player Somdev Devvarman being stretched to five sets and tied 7-7 with Ti Chen, when bad light stopped play.
Bhambri, reportedly, sent out a ‘Keep Calm’ message to his teammates this morning, hoping to settle the nerves that would have been frayed as the match spilled on to Saturday, especially since Devvarman had had four match points in the decider. Looks like the message hit home.
Devvarman took charge and sealed the victory in eight minutes, taking the set 9-7. Then comeback man Rohan Bopanna and Cup debutant Saketh Myneni joined forces to win the doubles rubber 6-0 6-7(3) 6-3 7-6(2) over Tsung-Hua Yang and Hsien-Yin Peng to give the hosts an unassailable 3-0 lead in the Asia Oceania round one tie.
India will now play South Korea in April, in an away fixture, in the second round. The winner of that tie will get a shot at qualifying for the 16-member Davis Cup World Group.
On the attack
Having slugged it out for four and a half hours on Friday afternoon, Devvarman returned to the Indore Tennis Club hard courts on Saturday with a refreshed body and a fresh attitude.
He was right on the money on his service game, landing in a service winner and an ace to take it at 15. The 28-year-old then stepped in on Chen’s serve, making aggressive returns and following it up by moving forward to the net. Two smash volleys and a backhand error from Chen saw him go up 0-40 up.
Though Chen tried to resist the momentum and saved two of those, he pulled a forehand long on the final one. Game, set, match India. And it took only eight minutes to wrap up a match that seemed endless the earlier evening.
“I won’t lie, I was very relieved to have pulled off the match,” Somdev said later.
The non-playing captain, Anand Amritraj, and coach, Zeeshan Ali, had stressed on the fact that Somdev had gone into his shell somewhat the earlier day, become too passive, handed too much of the power to his opponent. But the Indian wrenched it right back to give India a 2-0 lead.
“A win like this gives you confidence,” said the Indian, who had lost in the first round of the Chennai Open as well as the Australian Open this year.
“Good things have happened in the past when you get a result like this. It is amazing what a little bit of confidence, a little bit of self-belief can do to your game.”
Confidence wasn’t lacking in Myneni’s game either. Playing his first match for India, the 26-year-old, proved the difference in the fourth set-tiebreak of the doubles rubber.
Serving with power and precision and calling the shots from the back court, Rohan Bopanna, his experienced partner, was playing his role to perfection. But the Taipei pair had zoned in on Myneni as the ‘weaker link’. But the rookie rarely cracked.
After drawing first blood in that tie-break with a forehand return winner, Myneni lined up for a repeat on match point and pulled it off in style.
“Rohan kept telling me to go for my shots,” Myneni recalled later. “It was very tough on that last point, but I was just happy that it kept in.”
And then out went the ‘Keep calm’ mental banner as the team jumped onto the court for a heady round of celebrations.