Monday, Nov 24, 2014

A stutter at the start

Written by Mihir Vasavda | Indore | Posted: February 1, 2014 3:11 am | Updated: February 1, 2014 4:22 pm

Ti Chen arrived at the Indore Tennis Club four days ahead of Chinese Taipei’s Davis Cup tie against India to get used to playing on the slow, bouncy hard courts under the blazing sun. Though, there was only one glitch: he didn’t have a training partner. With the rest of the players scheduled to arrive later, the world no. 284 had to hit balls with local amateur players.

Taipei’s best bet, Tsung-Hua Yang, was to arrive two days later. He was in Hawaii when Chen reached Indore, playing a challenger where he reached the final. Yang spent his next three days flying from Hawaii to Taipei to Mumbai to Indore. After those long and arduous flying hours, the 22-year-old reached the venue jet-lagged and exhausted.

With their top two players giving the India tie a miss, the visitors weren’t just depleted but they were also grossly under-prepared to play the home team. The script, though, was changed on Friday, the day of the first singles. Chinese Taipei, Chen to be more specific, showed they were no pushovers.

Chen’s biggest achievement in his 10-year career is his reaching the final of an ITF event in Bangalore six years ago, where he lost to Vishnu Vardhan. During the last Davis Cup tie between the two countries in 2009, he lost to Somdev Devvarman in straight sets.

History was expected to repeat itself at the Indore Tennis Club as Chen was playing Devvarman again. More so since the visitors’ morale had taken a blow after Yang’s four-set loss to Yuki Bhambri in the opening match, which gave India an early advantage. But the 30-year-old Chen had other plans.

With nothing to lose, Chen went for the broke against Devvarman, a strategy which clearly left India’s top-ranked player rattled. After nearly four-and-a-half hours, where neither players gave each other an inch, the second singles had to be stop for bad light in deciding set. As both players retired into the changing rooms, the scoreboard read 7-6 (4), 6-7 (3), 6-1, 2-6, 7-7.

It was impossible to know from Chen’s poker face whether he was happy to have stretched Devvarman this far – and also save four match points – or disappointed that he wasn’t able to finish off the tie in four sets, especially after winning the third 6-1 and gaining momentum.

The same can be said of Devvarman as well. Such was the nature of the match that none of the players could claim to have an upper hand. It was neck and neck in the first two sets, which were decided because of some minor miss in the tie-breaks.

The Indians were paying for taking their opponents lightly. Actually, Chen doesn’t really have an intimidating aura around him when on court. But once in full flow, he can be a handful, as Devvarman realised. Chen’s service action unfolds in slow motion but is deceptively quick. His groundstrokes don’t quite fly but they usually stick to the baseline. However, today it was his volleying that got him most points. He placed his shots to perfection and many a times caught Devvarman off-guard. If the Indian stuck to the back of the court, he would pull off cheeky drops to win crucial points. Whether Chen can carry the same momentum on Saturday will be interesting to see.

Yuki advantage

The Indian camp, though stunned, seemed confident that the break might work in their favour. But as they learnt on Friday, underestimating their opponent could cost them dear. What will give India some consolation going into the second day of this tie is that they still hold the advantage given by Bhambri.

The 21-year-old limped to a 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (1), 6-3 win over a Yang. The Chennai Open quarterfinalist suffered cramps mid-way through the third set and it appeared that Bhambri would find it difficult to continue. Yang could not take advantage of the situation and though Bhambri was barely able to move, he managed to scrape past his opponent.

Swiss lead Serbia

Novi Sad: Switzerland took advantage of Novak Djokovic’s absence to open a 2-0 lead over Serbia in their Davis Cup tie on Friday with Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka winning their singles rubbers. Federer beat 268th-ranked Ilija Bozoljac 6-4 7-5 6-2 while Wawrinka eased past Dusan Lajovic 6-4 4-6 6-1 7-6(7).

France got off to a flier against Australia with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beating gutsy veteran Lleyton Hewitt 6-3 6-2 7-6(2) after Richard Gasquet outclassed Nick Kyrgios 7-6(3) 6-2 6-2.

The Czechs, the defending champions, were losing 1-0 to the Netherlands in Ostrava, with Radek Stepanek going down in five sets to Robin Haase.

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