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Game over for Team India

Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna went down to the Uzbekistan duo of Denis Istomin and Murad Inoyatov 6-7 (4), 4-6, 6-3, 3-6 in a two hour 36 minute match that left one scratching one's head trying to figure just how a team so superior could have caved in without much of a fight. Sukhwant Basra reports. Result| Two steps back..

sports Updated: Apr 08, 2012 02:08 IST
Sukhwant Basra
Leander-Paes-left-and-Rohan-Bopanna-are-in-action-during-the-Davis-Cup-match-between-Uzbekistan-and-India-in-Namangan-300-kms-186-42-miles-east-of-the-Uzbek-capital-Tashkent-Saturday-April-7-2012-Uzbek-tennis-players-won-with-the-score-7-6-6-4-3-6-6-3-AP
Leander-Paes-left-and-Rohan-Bopanna-are-in-action-during-the-Davis-Cup-match-between-Uzbekistan-and-India-in-Namangan-300-kms-186-42-miles-east-of-the-Uzbek-capital-Tashkent-Saturday-April-7-2012-Uzbek-tennis-players-won-with-the-score-7-6-6-4-3-6-6-3-AP

That was weird.

Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna went down to the Uzbekistan duo of Denis Istomin and Murad Inoyatov 6-7 (4), 4-6, 6-3, 3-6 in a two hour 36 minute match that left one scratching one's head trying to figure just how a team so superior could have caved in without much of a fight.

Paes (world no. 7) and Bopanna (8) were beaten by two players who do not figure anywhere in the top echelons of the doubles tour. Istomin is ranked 133 in doubles while Inoyatov is a lowly 618. As the match unfolded our doubles combo seemed to come apart.

The twosome version of tennis is all about chemistry between the partners. Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, no matter what their personal differences, always managed to hum in sync when playing for the country.

Uncomfortable
On Saturday, while the Indian pair started well enough, slowly their body language began to indicate that they were not too comfortable sharing the same court.

The two were slated to partner on the tour this year till Bopanna changed his mind and instead chose to play with Bhupathi. The subsequent bad blood seems to have played on his mind on Saturday.

When a world number eight player begins to miss sitter volleys, it is no wonder then that Paes got broken four times during the match.

But, it would be unfair to blame Bopanna alone for the entire mess. Even Paes failed to bring his A game to the court. It was almost as if two imposters had taken the place of our doubles experts.

"Never seen such poor quality returns from a team of their standard. They did not play well at all. Most disappointing," says captain SP Misra.

With Bhupathi, Bopanna has now made the switch to playing from the deuce court. The angles from that side are absolutely different from what he had to construct playing on Saturday from the ad court.

At this level, such a change can't be affected in a short span. Bopanna's backhand crosscourt return was earlier his strength but on Saturday that rapier shot became a spray of ill-timed efforts. Bad bounce did not help his cause either.

Did he just not want to win playing with Paes? "Why would I have rushed here from Miami to be part of the team if it was my intention to lose? We had a bad day and that's all there is to it," he says.

The undercurrent in the team, however, is one of intense speculation.

To give their opponents credit, both played away above their level. The only reason that Istomin turned out on Saturday was because he felt his match against Sanam Singh was not taxing enough and he wanted the extra practice! When a top-50 singles player starts teeing off on each loose ball, there is little that the guys on the other side can do.

"The volleys I missed were on account of the sheer pace on the ball," says Bopanna.

Result| Two steps back..