Somdev Devvarman is a fighter. Everything about his game is tuned for battle. But, on Friday, against an opponent ranked 180 places below him, he looked flummoxed, head down, like this wasn't the battle he chose.
At the end of the day, which came prematurely as play was stopped due to fading light, he was still locked in a dramatic battle with Ti Chen of the Chinese Taipei, the scoreline reading 6-7 (4), 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-2, 7-7.
While the score tells half the tale, what it does not reveal is that Somdev had been a break up in the first two sets till Chen found a way to push it into tie-breaks.
More pertinently, the Indian held a triple match point on his serve at 5-3 and squandered it. He then had a chance to close out the match on Chen's serve at 5-4 and still couldn't. Sleeping over that thought can't be comfortable.
"I don't think I would be able to get any sleep if I was in that situation," said India's non-playing captain, Anand Amritraj, after an intense opening day in the Davis Cup Asia Oceania Round One tie, which India still finished with a lead of 1-0.
Yuki Bhambri had survived a cramped foot to get the job done in the first singles, when he beat Taipei's top player Tsung-Hua Wang 6-2, 6-4, 6-7(1), 6-3. The 22-year-old Indian had got off to a rollicking start, his serve and forehand doing most of the damage. His opponent did come to life late in the second set and tried to put up a semblance of a fight.
But Yuki, despite a few uncomfortable moments at the end of the third set, where he could barely get up on his toes to serve, quashed the challenge to take the fourth set 6-3 after two hours and 52 minutes.
"I had to be attacking from the beginning and the court conditions suited me," he said. "The high bounce meant I could drive through the ball. The match wasn't easy, but I am glad we got that one point, especially in the context of how Somdev's match has progressed."
Somdev's match, with all its ebbs and flows, had kept the Indian contingent on its toes. Especially, since none of them saw it coming, of the two matches on the day, his was billed as the easier one.
Chen, the No 2 player of Chinese Taipei, was not only staying with the top Indian in the rallies, but stalking the net with confidence and purpose. He was hitting backhand volleys straight out of the copybook, mixing it up enough to keep Somdev from getting into any rhythm.
"Now that I think of it, I guess we underestimated him (Chen) a little," said Amritraj. "Somdev wasn't hitting the ball, he was pushing it around. His game is all about defense and sometimes it is difficult to get him out of that mindset. He thinks he can grind everyone down. But this guy didn't crumble."
The Indian still looked like surviving the storm after he bagged the fourth set and went into an early lead in the decider. He was 40-0 up at 5-3, poised to make the winning point — the photographers had all stood up and grabbed a vantage point to capture the moment. But it wasn't to be.