Fortune did favour the brave on Friday. Somdev Devvarman and Rohan Bopanna were up against local players who had been acclimatising to the altitude of Johannesburg for close to ten days but the Ellis Park indoor arena was hushed into silence as India raced to a solid 2-0 lead after first day’s action of this World Group play-off tie.
Devvarman started a little tentatively against Izak van der Merwe but kept his nerve and won a very tight first set 7-6 (5) before stepping it up a notch to script a 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-4 scoreline. Somdev struggled to get any rhythm going in the first set, but once he pocketed it, he was a different player as he started stroking freely and made good many more returns to beat his very nervous opponent in straight sets. “I played well enough to beat Izak. It was important for me to win the first match to put us ahead and I am happy I got the job done.”
Not only did he get the job done, he also provided Bopanna with more breathing space going into his match and the man from Bangalore made good use of the leeway.
The day surely belonged to Bopanna who came back after being dominated in the first set to beat the South African number one Rik de Voest 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in four hard fought sets.
The way the first set went caused a load of anxiety on the Indian bench as De Voest put on a flawless display. At that moment one did get the impression that this match could be over in a jiffy. But Bopanna had other plans. He did not let the first set get him down and came out firing in the second to clinch it 6-4. From then on it was all Bopanna as he broke De Voest twice in the third and then very early in the fourth to earn raucous cheering from the Indian team. Serving 4-3, 0-15, Bopanna got a horrendous call from a lineswoman that seemed to completely throw him off. He was promptly broken and things leveled at 4-4.
But to his credit he got his head together and broke De Voest in the very next game to go up 5-4. He then served four monstrous serves to seal the win for India.
Bopanna is playing this well after a long, long time. There were many who doubted him, but he showed what his big game can do if it fires on all cylinders.
“I knew I had to serve big and go for my shots. After the first set I just told myself to stay calm and focused.
“This is one of the best wins of my career. I hope to finish off the job on Saturday with Mahesh (Bhupathi) and put us through to the World Group,” said an ecstatic Bopanna after his win.
The Indian duo will take on Wesley Moodie and Jeff Cotzee on Saturday in the doubles. Should India win this match, the nation will be through to the World Group after a gap of eleven years.