It was ugly out there today. It was a street brawl where the form and poise of the ring was jettisoned and winning became a clawing, desperate grapple of wills. Today it was not pretty inside Rohan Bopanna’s head – demons were about.
The gameplan was devastating in its simplicity. Bopanna constantly hustled Thomaz Bellucci – who, at 27, is 472 notches higher than him in the world rankings -- by scrambling for the net behind flat, hard shots. He denied the Brazilian any chance to rally and get his rhythm. He went for broke and ripped each ball he reached. An hour and 45 minutes later Bopanna led 7-6 (2), and 6-3 in the second set tiebreak. Three set points gleamed in promise with two of his own serves to go.
For sure, Bellucci dug in and refused to go down. But by then Bopanna’s demons had also come alive. He just could not close the set. The Brazilian leveled taking the tiebreaker 9-7.
Few players can regroup after a blow like that. Bopanna, however, incredibly enough shook himself loose trailing two sets to one and then played a rampant brand of fluid tennis to sit comfortable at 5-2 in the final set.
One hoped that the exorcism of a US Open doubles final had done its job. The Brazilian had been wrung out by the Chennai humidity. Captain SP Misra’s hope had turned into reality. Bellucci dragged himself to his chair and had to take a medical timeout for what was obviously cramping.
When a visibly fatigued and increasingly erratic Bellucci served to stay in the match, he slipped three match points the Indian’s way. But the home-boy again could not close. Those demons, you see, they still frolicked.
Bopanna was unable to hold serve the very next game and the Brazilain did to level the set at 5-5. Then, he reached down real deep to tap reserves that only champions have – that X elixir which only the chosen ones possess.
Four hours and 28 minutes of a see-saw grapple later he sank down on his knees with the scoreline 6-7 (2), 7-6 (7), 7-5, 4-6, 10-8 in his favour. “Don’t give up…play every point…run down every ball...work hard on the court,” that’s what Bellucci said he thought about when the odds were stacked tottering high. Simple.
“That heart that you show on court, that matters in the end” summed up Brazil’s captain Joao Zwetsch.
Bopanna continues to stay the eternal riddle of Indian tennis. Such blazing form and such a damp squib of a finish will surely take him some time to get over.
Somdev Devvarman showed a lot of heart in his 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 4-6 loss to Ricardo Mello but the Brazilian came up with the goods at crucial times in a match that was like the flip of a coin.
On Saturday veterans Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi will have their work cut out as they look to tame the 16th world ranked pair of Marcello Melo and Bruno Soares.