THE PAST week had brought nothing but anguish to Prakash Amritraj. He was under pressure, under fire and under stress. But Sunday proved a different day for Amritraj. Mental agony and turmoil -- he was called 'unprofessional' and 'not 100 per cent fit' by captain Leander Paes -- made way for euphoria and ecstasy for the 25-year-old.
The country's top player came out firing to defeat Uzbekistan's Farrukh Dustov 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 and give India a 3-2 victory in the Asia-Oceania Zone Davis Cup tie.
Leading 2-1 after Saturday's rubber, the Indian team suddenly found itself in danger of losing the tie after Rohan Bopanna went down to Denis Istomin 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/1), 8-6 in the first reverse singles. Istomin's win helped the visitors draw level at 2-2 and push the tie into the fifth rubber.
Amritraj knew the responsibility of taking the team home rested on him after a tired and worn out Bopanna had succumbed to Istomin in a thrilling five-setter. And he did just that. His desperation to win the match was evident with his every move on the court. He kept telling himself all through that he had to win.
Amritraj got off to a shaky start when he wasted six breakpoints in the second game. But the Indian did not let that affect him. He got the first break of the match in the eighth game with a beautiful drop volley and went on to win the set 6-3.
But the way big-serving Dustov played earned him the second set. Both exchanged breaks in the fifth and sixth games to make it 3-3. But Dustov's accurate returns from the baseline got him the crucial break in the eighth game as he made it 5-3. And within minutes he had pocketed the set.
Egged on by his captain, teammates and the crowd, Amritraj was in no mood to falter. He played like a fighter and served big to take a 4-1 lead and win the third set with elan.
With Dustov committing too many unforced errors in the fourth, Amritraj made optimum use of his opponent's recklessness and broke him twice in the fifth and seventh game.
After two hours and 14 minutes, Amritraj was down on his knees celebrating a personal triumph. A jubilant Indian team, drenched in champagne, hugged and celebrated while Paes, with tears in his eyes, held Amritraj in his arms.