Thomaz Bellucci, down 2-5 in the fifth set, saved three matchpoints to beat Rohan Bopanna 6-7 (2), 7-6 (7), 7-5, 4-6, 10-8 in the first singles to give Brazil a 1-0 lead over India in the Davis Cup World Group playoff in Chennai on Friday.
The 22-year-old Bellucci, ranked 27, showcased tremendous fighting ability and resilience that were the cornerstones of his success that he achieved after four hours and 28 minutes of absorbing tennis.
For the 30-year-old, 479th-ranked Bopanna, it was a case of so near yet so far as he blew his chances which had he taken would have fetched India a welcome lead.
It turned out to be a battle of wits and wills as the duo slugged it out toe-to-toe as the fortunes ebbed and flowed. If Bopanna served better and played an inspired game, Bellucci often dug deep and overcame fifth set cramps to hang in there while authoring a fairytale victory.
In the first set, it was Bopanna who dominated with his big serves and crisp shots while Bellucci struggled to find his bearings.
In fact, the Brazilian tended to be error-prone while looking rather tentative. He seemed to be inhibited in contrast to Bopanna who played far more freely and with confidence.
The Indian had his chances to wrap up the set much earlier when he was up a breakpoint in the second and sixth games, but allowed Bellucci to escape.
Thereafter, games went with serve to force the tie-breaker in which Bopanna played brilliantly to pouch the set for a 1-0 lead as Bellucci paid the price for five double-faults and 19 unforced errors.
The second set saw the players trading breaks early with Bellucci dropping serve in the first and Bopanna in the second. Bopanna then blew a breakpoint in the 10th game and another chance to take a firm grip on the set.
In the tie-breaker, both served well until Bellucci dug deep for a clean winner to go up 9-7 and with it, it was a set-all.
Bellucci obviously drew a lot of confidence from winning the second set as he broke Bopanna in the very first game of the third and eventually served for the set at 5-4. It looked curtains for the Indian, but Bellucci wasted two set points and Bopanna swiftly broke him for 5-5.
However, Bopanna dropped serve in the next game and Bellucci then served out the set for a commanding 2-1 lead.
The pressure was squarely on Bopanna as he began the fourth set. With the crowd backing him along with his team-mates courtside, Bopanna lifted his game while Bellucci looked rather subdued.
The decisive moment in the set came in the 10th game, when Bopanna leading 5-4 broke Bellucci for the set and tied the rubber 2-2. The Bangalorean came up with some brilliant winners, especially an on-the-run forehand crosscourt and then an inside-out to Bellucci’s forehand.
Paradoxically, Bopanna committed 14 unforced errors to Bellucci’s six, but blasted 13 winners against just four by his opponents.
In the fifth set, Bopanna began strongly with two breaks of serves in the fourth and sixth. He nearly broke again in the eighth, but Bellucci saved three match points to hold for 3-5 before leveling at 5-5 by winning the next two games.
The next six games went to serve and then came the crucial break by Bellucci in the 17th for a 9-8 lead. Buoyed by the advantage, the Brazilian served out the match to emerge a worthy winner.