Lee-Hesh lose, India book World Group play-off berth
Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi lost the inconsequential reverse singles on Sunday even as India beat Japan 3-2 in the Davis Cup Asia Group I tie and qualified for the World Group play-off.
Satoshi Iwabuchi and Kei Nishikori helped Japan to take some pride out of the dead rubber after beating Paes and Bhupathi respectively.
Doubles pro Bhupathi and veteran Paes opted to play the reverse singles after India clinched the tie Saturday and progressed to the World Group playoff. They last featured in the play-off in 2005 where they lost 1-3 to Sweden.
Both Paes and Bhupathi were playing in a singles match after a long time and that showed in their game.
Paes, who replaced Rohan Bopanna, displayed great fighting spirit but lost 4-6, 6-4, 4-6 against Iwabuchi in two hours while Bhupathi's feeble challenge was thrashed by Nishikori 7-5, 6-1 in the first reverse singles.
Iwabuchi, ranked 364, seized the initiative early in the match, getting back-to-back breaks in the fifth and seventh game of the first set. However, Paes reduced the margin in the eighth. Down 0-40, Iwabuchi managed to save one break point with an ace but double faulted in the next.
Iwabuchi gave no more chance to Paes and closed down the set in the tenth game.
In the second set, both the players held on to their serve till the ninth game. Iwabuchi dropped his serve in the next game as Paes hit a superb forehand down the line shot to square the match.
Iwabuchi broke Paes in the very first game of the third set. The 35-year-old veteran did not let go the Japanese without a fight. Down two match points, he came back strongly through his great reflexes. Paes gave a last ditch attempt to break Iwabuchi's, but squandered two break points to hand over the match.
Earlier in the day, Kei Nishikori thrashed a feeble challenge from Bhupathi in the first reverse singles to help Japan open their account. The 18-year-old Japanese took just 59 minutes to dump Bhupathi 7-5, 6-1 in a lopsided affair.
Bhupathi last featured in a singles match in 2001 and that too in a Davis Cup encounter against Takao Suzuki of Japan.
The doubles pro clearly looked out of sorts against the Japanese teenager. Bhuapthi had no answers to the 118th ranked Japanese's superior ground strokes and baseline play.
Bhupathi's serve and volley game did not work for him and his poor first serve added to his woes. His five double faults made matter worse.
Niskori, who is coming on the back of some good performance in international tennis, was quick to pounce on his opponents' weakness.
The Japanese serve is one of his weak points but he fired nine aces compared to Bhuapthi's two.
In the sixth game of the first set, Nishikori broke Bhupathi's serve with a backhand return. Bhuapthi broke back in the tenth game. Nishikori committed his second double fault to level the score 5-5.
The Japanese stepped on the accelerator in the next game. Bhupathi again fumbled on his serve and committed a double fault to hand over the break. Nishikori then closed in the set with a clean service game.
From then onwards, it was a cakewalk for Nishikori as he ran through the second set breaking Bhupathi's serve thrice - third, fourth and sixth game - and wrapped up the affair in no time.
India had taken an unassailable 3-0 lead Saturday after Leander and Bhupathi won the doubles match following Rohan Bopanna's and Prakash Amritraj's wins in the singles Friday.
With the tie in their favour, the hosts Sunday decided to give rest to Amritraj and Bopanna and fielded Bhupathi and Paes for the reverse singles.