When it comes to the Indian Davis Cup team, the players may change but the drama somehow continues.
If it was Yuki Bhambri going to sleep for 11-odd games on Friday, on Saturday it was Vishnu Vardhan who, “lost his legs” for about a set before recovering to seal the tie by clinching the doubles 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 in the company of Divij Sharan.
Earlier, Vardhan had sealed the one leftover set he required to get that crucial second win and India went into the doubles with the buffer of two wins to New Zealand’s nothing.
The 3-0 unassailable lead means India retain their place in the Davis Cup Asia Oceania Group I.This, so far, has not been the most exciting tie. Unless scratching one’s head in confusion counts. Firstly, there has been the weather. It rains in the morning, clears up by noon and is blazing by the afternoon. Then, there have been these inexplicable tennis blackouts with our players.
To make it all the more strange, whenever the Indians have faltered, it’s not like the Kiwis have managed to take advantage and drive the edge home. Instead, like good guests, they have proceeded to squander their bit of providence away.
Vardhan was rampant in the morning in his 6-2, 31-minute dismissal of Jose Statham to end the minor argument that the second match of this tie had evolved into. Vardhan was leading two sets to one before bad light had forced cancellation of play on Friday. Combined with that outing, he spent nearly four-and-half-hours on court today. Along with, he bore the vagaries of the change in court temperature — from breezy cool in the morning to inferno humid in the late afternoon — as well as his own physical status.
The 25-year-old did show the heart to stick in there and “get back his legs”. Vardhan explained: “By the end of the third and beginning of the fourth set, I lost my legs. I felt I was exhausted. In such a situation you have to stay relaxed and drink a lot of fluids. I have seen Mahesh (Bhupathi) and Leander (Paes) do that. You get your legs back.”
Now, that’s not the most elaborate of explanations but that’s what we have for the flutter that Vardhan caused in the Indian camp when he seemed to just freeze up in the fourth set of the doubles encounter. Enough bananas and sports drinks later, he was good enough to play solid again in the fifth set.
The gamechangerWhile Vardhan has done well to pull off two matches, the star of this tie so far for this correspondent has been Divij Sharan. At 26, Sharan may not be the brightest future prospect and may not even make the squad once Paes and Somdev Devvarman choose to get back, but the composure and pluck he showed on his Cup debut was most heartening.
“His partner stepped up and helped him out. He played smart,” said Kiwi player Michael Venus when asked as to how that team reacted when they realised that Vardhan was faltering physically.
It is normal for players to be tentative when playing their first match for the country. Not only did Sharan manage to hold his nerve, he also had the presence of mind not to play beyond his game. He did up the tempo when he felt Vardhan flag — just when it was prudent. This correspondent has seen the Sharans — with father and mother chaperoning their ward — trudging around tennis courts for over a decade.
The performance of the son when turning out for his nation is a small victory for the country but is the very bedrock on which dreams are built.
There are many other Sharans in Indian tennis who have put their lives on hold to nurture the potential of their child. Divij’s performance on Saturday should give them all hope. Hope that spells out clearly that if you don’t give up, things may just fall in place and the dream may become a reality. So what if it’s just for a short while?