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Again, it is that man Leander Paes for India

Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes came back from two sets down to beat Ilija Bozoljac and Nenand Zimonjic in the doubles match and narrowed Serbia's lead to 2-1 in the Davis Cup play-off in Bangalore.

sports Updated: Sep 14, 2014 02:48 IST
Sukhwant Basra
Sukhwant Basra
Hindustan Times

Faith, they say, can move mountains. Faith can also warp the momentum of a match, twist it out of the reach of a rampant team and shove it the way the crowd would rather have it. A bit of luck, of course, makes things slightly easier.

Down two sets to love and a break against a duo that has to its credit a win over the mighty Bryan brothers, one really can't blame the few disbelievers who chose to leave the stadium. But India had two mighty weapons in this encounter - the one and only Leander Paes and a viciously vociferous crowd.

That Nenad Zimonjic pulled a muscle on the right side of his neck in the third set gave a turbo boost to the faith of the crowd and India came back from the brink to pull off a spectacular win. The tie now stands at 2-1 in favour of the visitors and one can only hope that the doubles veterans' display gets the singles guys going too.

The unthinkable

Paes and Rohan Bopanna had defeat mocking them when they trailed 2-3 in the third set. A break at this level of doubles and that too at such a crucial juncture of the match, can seldom be earned back.

While the Indians no doubt raised their game astride an emotion-spewing passionate charge back led by Paes, the fact of the matter is also that the more experienced man on the Serbian side, the 38-year-old Zimonjic, had two games ago pulled something in the neck that refused to go away till the end.

"I was unable to look up for my serve... Hitting the backhand was a problem... By the end the pain killers worked but I was never 100% again," said Zimonjic.

Almost three hours later, the scoreline read 1-6, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3, 8-6 and India finally had a plucky win in this tie.

While Zimonjic was no longer the player he was before his injury, at least for about a set and a half, the way Paes fired up the crowd and his partner with a couple of spectacular strokes that he seemed to pull out of the magic arsenal only he possesses, swung the match on its head. Then, Bopanna upped the ante and took over.

Bopanna joins party

Momentum is a funny thing. It's like an animal that feeds off the flagging spirit of the guys across the net. Bolstered by his huge serve and Paes' raw passion, momentum went with the Indians and with the crowd egging them on, our men just didn't look back.

In the beginning, it was as if Paes was still in his hotel room and had instead sent an imposter in his place. The man who has had such incredible wins when playing for the flag was a pale shadow of his former self.

Jittery start

Consistently being caught in no-man's land - the area between the baseline and the service one - Paes struggled to get his serve going and was broken three times in his first four service games. He missed volleys, muffed up his returns and things looked pretty grim with Bopanna soon also tapering off.

However, these guys have been out on tour for a long time and both have played enough Davis Cup ties to know that it pays to hang in there till something clicks. This time around it was Zimonjic's neck.

Rhythm back

"While I wouldn't say that it kept him out till the end of the match, what that allowed us was a chance to get our breath back and get back into the match," said Paes. "We had to find our rhythm, slow things down and play our own game instead of letting them rush away with the match."

After all, the first set had taken a scant 18 minutes. But from 2-3, the Indians ran up six games on the trot. Paes termed the win his best comeback ever in Davis Cup.

First Published: Sep 14, 2014 02:34 IST