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Somdev leads India to elite World Group after 11 years

A dogged Somdev Devvarman scripted a spectacular win over South Africa's Rik De Voest in a high-voltage marathon five-setter to clear India's passage into the elite Davis Cup World Group after 11 years in Johannesburg on Sunday. Vishal Uppal reports.

sports Updated: Nov 23, 2010 17:36 IST
Vishal Uppal

Not many gave Somdev Devvarman a chance. He was two sets and a break down in the third. Wesley Moodie and Rohan Bopanna, who were supposed to play the fifth rubber, had left their respective team benches to warm-up for the imminent decider.

But Somdev walked in for the changeover, screaming at his captain, “I am not losing today, I am not losing today!”

The fire had been stoked. Now, he had to consume Rik de Voest - South Africa no.1 and his good friend cum practice partner.

After an intense fight for four hours and 44 minutes, the longest rubber in Indian Davis Cup history, Somdev was the last man standing. He battled the ghosts that usually haunt India at this stage of the tournament, to script a 3-6, 6-7 (3), 7-6(5), 6-2, 6-4 victory. The long wait is over. India are in the World Group after 11 years. Somdev gave India an unassailable 3-1 lead in the play-off tie in Johannesburg.

“This is my biggest win ever,” said Somdev after the win. “I am proud of being an Indian. Playing and winning for my country is very very special.”

Like he did in his first match, De Voest came out all guns blazing. He raced through the first-set, pocketing it 6-3. He went on to take a 3-0 lead in the second. But Somdev did not give in. He fought for each ball, scampering around the court and showed great defence.

He leveled and then broke; only to see De Voest come back after trailing 5-6 and edge the set into a tie-break. The South African won it 7-3.

After another extreme battle for the third set, the Indian's perseverance was finally paying. The passing shots hit the right notes, the athlete in him pushing harder. He made De Voest play that extra ball and the South African, prone to mistakes as he showed in the first singles, misfired.

Somdev won the tie-break 7-5. One down, two to go!

The emotion of the third set seemed to drain away De Voest's energy as he showed the first signs of fatigue. Occasionally making a great volley, but the Indian pushed him to the limit. And De Voest snapped.

Somdev won the fourth 6-2 and carried the momentum into the fifth, clinching it 6-4. “This is why I train so hard, I never want to lose a match because I got tired,” said Somdev.

Somdev Devvarman
Somdev Devvarman
India in Davis Cup World Group after 11 years

"I am happy at the way I fought back and won the match. I want to thank my entire team for the way they got behind me and never lost faith in me, I could not have won this match without their vociferous support." Leander Paes, India's most celebrated Davis Cup hero wasn't present in South Africa, but Somdev rekindled his passion. And India would need every bit of it as they prepare to face the best nations in the team event next year.

In the final rubber, Yuki Bhambri beat Izak van der Merwe 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Somdev is a brilliant player: Mishra

PTI adds: India’s non-playing captain S P Misra was also happy that under his captaincy the team qualified for the World Group and heaped lavish praise on Somdev.

“I am relieved a man today. After being two-nil down it was a long way to comeback but I had faith in Somdev. Because once he gets started, he climbs up. He gave us whatever we wanted. He is brilliant player.”