Towards the end of the fourth set, the belief was sagging. Viktor Troicki, world number 18, Serbia's number one player, shrugged his shoulders in frustration as he looked at his team. Surely, a contest against a player, playing only his second singles match of the year, and ranked 629 in the world should have been easier than this.
Rohan Bopanna was going for broke, laying all his cards down. And he was coming good. He even had the crowd in a noisy twist when he came back from 0-2 down to level the match at two sets all. But having put all his heart in that comeback, he was drained of energy in the deciding fifth.
Troicki defeated Bopanna 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 3-6, 6-3 over three hours and 18 minutes to give defending champions Serbia a 1-0 lead over India in the Davis Cup World Group first round tie in Novi Sad on Friday.
Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic pulling out of the tie had presented some hope to the visitors, and they almost chanced their luck on the opening day. For a player whose singles outings have mostly been in the India jersey the past couple of seasons, Bopanna played with admirable gumption.
More than the lack of pace of the court, it was the double faults that were hurting the Indian. He served three of them in the opening game, and 17 through the match. The big Bopanna forehand came to the party by the second set, where he was a break up but frittered away the advantage.
But once Bopanna stepped it up in the third and fourth sets, his defense fell apart at the seams. The Indian snapped up the third set 7-5 to get a toehold in the match. But just as everyone was warming up for an exciting final set, the fight left Bopanna. He was 0-4 down in a matter of minutes, and though the Indian pulled back one break, Troicki had enough rope to seal the match at 6-3.