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India in big boys’ league

sports Updated: Sep 20, 2010 00:58 IST
Sukhwant Basra

There are times when pluck and grit collude to transport a player to a different plane. In sport there exists an exalted realm where only the fortunate few dwell on a regular basis. Years of sweat and pain, however, do force the Gods of sport to, once in a rare while open a gateway for the journeymen too. On Sunday, Rohan Bopanna walked through the door of Davis Cup greatness to display a brand of tennis that only the gifted can conjure.

India barged through to the World Group on the wings of a man possessed. The 3-2 victory was sculpted by Somdev Devvarman first grinding down the resolve of Thomaz Bellucci 7-6 (3), 4-0 (conceded). Then came Bopanna, who hammered out a masterpiece in power tennis by blitzing past Ricardo Mello 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3 in two hours.

The sun shone bright in Chennai today. The layout of the stadium here does not allow any breeze to waft close to the court. Out there in the middle, it was a cauldron of dizzying heat and sapping humidity. The Brazilians wilted. For the first time ever in its 89-year Davis Cup history (first tie played in 1921), India came back from a 0-2 deficit. The feat has been managed only 45 times in the 110-year history of the event.

The Indian think tank's strategic call to host the tie in this city finally came good. But lest this incredible achievement be construed an outcome of the elements conspiring, it needs to be asserted that it was actually all about one man coming to terms with his demons.

Tennis is a sport of the mind. Strong will alone allows for the nerves to be steadied enough to unleash skill in the face of pressure. Very, very few players can actually regroup after the kind of debilitating five-set loss that Bopanna suffered on Friday. To bury that negativity and come back to shoulder the expectations of a nation in such dazzling fashion speaks of rare mettle.

Bopanna was never broken. He broke Mello twice - both times at 2-1 in the first and third sets. Too many times in the past has he been on the cusp of delivering only to let his own serve slip away. Not today.

In both his matches Bopanna was a tough riddle for the Brazilians. Devavarman's effort was aided by a severely dehydrated Bellucci losing his resolve in the heat. But by the time he conceded the match, the Indian had already asserted his dominance by taking charge of the first set tiebreak and then breaking Bellucci twice in the second.

India will now face one of the fifteen other nations in the elite group next March. If these guys play the way they did today, there is enough reason to paint India's chances with a bright flourish of hope.