It wasn’t pretty. Nor was it an exhibition of quick reflexes and cheeky net-play that made the doubles action on the second day of the India-Chinese Taipei tie that was a joy to watch.
Instead, it was more mechanical from Rohan Bopanna and Saketh Myneni; both six-foot plus, reeling off one big serve after other, not giving the Taiwanese pair a chance. The only time they looked happy to be near the net was when they shook hands with their opponents at the end of the match. However, it was effective. Their big, booming serves ensured there was no twist to the plot as they defeated Tsung-Hua Yang and Hsien-Yen Peng in four sets to help India clinch its Group I Davis Cup tie by taking an unassailable 3-0 lead over Chinese Taipei.
It would be wrong to suggest that India dominated the tie. Far from it. The depleted visitors made life tough for the hosts and as they had done so far, Taipei once again punched well above their weight in the doubles and threatened to force the match into the final day. Their makeshift doubles pair of Yang and Peng played to their strengths, with Peng remarkably agile at the net.
After losing the opening set 0-6, they won the second in the tie-breaker. However, they were undone by some fierce serving by the Indian duo, with Bopanna alone served 18 aces. The power-hitting by both Indian players ultimately propelled them to a 6-0 6-7(3) 6-3 7-6 (2) win in little over two hours.
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But before Bopanna and Myneni could take court, there was a ‘small’ pending issue from Friday that was waiting to be finished — Somdev Devvarman’s marathon match against Ti Chen.
The Indian team woke up to an anxious morning. After Yuki Bhambri had won the opening rubber in four sets, the much-higher ranked Devvarman had been taken all the way by the little-known Taiwanese. It had to be stopped with scores tied at 7-7 in the deciding fifth set due to bad light.
Bhambri, fast growing into an important singles player for India, tried to settle the team’s nerves. He urged them to be calm. India’s non-playing captain Anand Amritraj and coach Zeeshan Ali tried to get Devvarman to forget the happenings on Friday. Devvarman, ranked 181 places above Chen, was just two solid games away from win. But Chen had shown the previous evening, he was no pushover.
The break, though, had halted the Taiwanese player’s momentum. It took Devvarman just eight minutes to settle the slugfest that had continued for four-and-a-half hours on Friday.
Devvarman served first and managed a comfortable hold with the game lasting barely two minutes. Chen, whose aggression and clinical volleying had stunned Devvarman, was then beaten at his own game. The top-ranked Indian, criticised for not playing aggressively, attacked Chen’s first serve, pinned him to the baseline and played the volleys to perfection. He squandered two match points, making it six overall, but converted the third of the day to claim the match 6-7(4) 7-6(3) 1-6 6-2 9-7.
Up 2-0 and with the psychological battle now won, it was up to Bopanna, the most experienced player in the team, and debutant Myneni to close out the tie. It was an emotional return for Bopanna to the side after being suspended for close to two years. He last played for India in 2012, against Uzbekistan where he had lost the doubles partnering Leander Paes. He has grown in stature since and in absence of the Big Two of Indian tennis, has become the senior member of the squad. On Friday, the big-serving Coorgi lived up to the billing, facing just one break point on his serve, which he saved comfortably in the third set.
Targetting the newcomer
The visitors instead targetted the inexperienced Myneni, as they worked the ball towards the 26-year-old, ranked 308th in doubles, forcing him into making errors. However, Myneni held firm, even producing the winner at matchpoint, a forehand down the line.
India will now play South Korea to earn a spot in the World Group playoff come April. The two reverse singles on Sunday have been reduced to three sets and Amritraj is expected to change the nominations and give young players a chance.