An untimely injury to Mahesh Bhupathi delayed India's chances of securing a berth in the World Group by another day.
Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna were trailing the South African duo of Wesley Moodie and Jeff Coetzee 3-6, 6-3, 0-4 in the doubles rubber on Saturday when they withdrew.
South Africa thus kept their chances alive, closing the difference to 1-2, having lost their opening singles matches on Friday in the play-off tie.
Bhupathi pulled his groin muscle in the second game of the third set while going for a high volley and had to retire just two games later.
“It’s obviously very disappointing to lose a match in this fashion,” said a dejected Bhupathi.
“We were just finding our rhythm and getting back into the match when the injury happened. I had the same injury during Monte Carlo also. We are still in a very good position and the pressure is on South Africa.”
The match started off on a brighter note for the hosts as they came out firing on all cylinders in the must-win rubber.
They got a crucial break in the eighth game of the opening set, breaking Bhupathi’s serve and then Moodie served out the first set 6-3.
The second set went more according to plan for the Indian team. They started to play with better rhythm and started making more balls.
One could see the intensity rise and both, Bhupathi and Bopanna, were fired up and eager to even things up. They got the decisive break in the set on Coetzee's serve in the eighth game.
Just when things were looking up for the Indians, Bhupathi pulled his groin muscle as India faced a break point on Bopanna's serve. One could clearly see the discomfort he was in right after he sustained the injury.
After playing for two more games, he finally decided to pull out.
“Mahesh's injury is quite disappointing,” said India's non-playing captain SP Misra.
“The boys were playing well. Somdev and Rohan will be ready tomorrow to finish the job for us.”
This makes the tie really interesting, though the pressure is still on South Africa.
Rik de Voest, who will open Sunday’s proceedings against Somdev Devvarman, is bound to be nervous given that the fate of his team hinges on his performance. If he loses, South Africa loses.
Devvarman, on the other hand, has the comfort of knowing India are ahead and he can come out playing more freely and pile the pressure on South Africa’s top player.
Since they practice together and share coach, Scott McCain, the players know each other's games inside out.
It will be a battle of nerves and the one who deals with it better will come out tops, though Somdev does have the upper hand going into the match.
With Bopanna also on song in the singles, the tie is now India’s to lose.
(The writer is a former India Davis Cup player)
Jeff Coetzee and Wesley Moodie, South Africa, def. Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna, India, 6-3, 3-6, 4-0, retd.
Duration: 1 hr 19 mins
South Africa / India
1st serve percent: 68 / 61
Aces: 0 / 2
Total points won: 66 / 52
Double faults: 1 / 5
India lead the series 2-1
Sunday’s tie: R.De.Voest (RSA) v. Somdev .Devvarman (IND), Live on Neo Sports from 3:30pm
Croatia 0-3 Czech Republic:
Tomas Berdych / Radek Stepanek (CZE) bt Lovro Zovko/Marin Cilic (CRO) 6-1, 6-3, 6-4
Radek Stepanek (CZE) bt Ivo Karlovic (CRO) 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (2/7), 16-14
Tomas Berdych (CZE) bt Marin Cilic (CRO) 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3
World Group play-offs:
Italy 1-2 Switzerland
Serbia 3-0 Uzbekistan
Sweden 2-1 Romania
Belgium 2-1 Ukraine