Leander Paes and Saketh Myneni pushed the reigning Olympics doubles gold medallists Rafa Nadal and Marc Lopez in the doubles contest of the India-Spain Davis Cup contest but lost in four sets with thin margins separating the two teams at various points in the match.
India could have won the second set but for Saketh being broken in the tenth game and then in the fourth set, India led 3-0 before the Spanish duo broke back-to-back to close the match and the tie out after the visitors took an unassailable 3-0 lead.
With an impressive and much improved performance from Friday’s singles contest, Saketh showed why he made the US Open main draw after going through the qualifiers. And that outstanding showing earned high praise from Paes with the 18-time Grand Slam winner saying Myneni can go on to win a Grand Slam with anyone while also extending an offer to partner him on tour. “With what I saw today, if he wants to play doubles, there is a clean offer. If he wants to play doubles, I would enjoy playing with him on the tour. I’m not sure what we’ve got going for Chennai Open yet but what I saw today, if I get Saketh for six months and he keeps working hard and enjoying his tennis, he could win a Grand Slam – not just with me. He’s a hell of a player. His serves, his returns and if he keeps on honing his skills, fitness wise and playing the right shot at the right time, I’ll put this on record and say this guy can be a Grand Slam champion,” said Paes in the post match press conference.
However, Saketh maintained singles remains his priority but stated he loved the offer that Paes had just extended. “Well singles is still the priority as long as my body permits. But I love the offer. Playing with him today it just felt so natural because he’s someone who reads the game well. I will focus on my singles and keep doubles alongside. I will have to improve my rankings to play doubles as well,” he said in response.
Paes’ extension of the offer holds even more importance given he’s partnered 15 players in the past two years clearly suggesting a compatibility issue that is important in doubles.
In the tenth game of the second set, India were up 5-4 and Myneni who had served brilliantly throughout the match, went for a drop shot at 30-40 which hit the top of the tape and levelled matters. This, Paes believed, was the turning point in the match. But he maintained that he wouldn’t question Saketh’s shot selection because that is the kind of player he is and the point could have had the same result if the 28-year-old had gone for a deep return.
On his part, Saketh maintained that it was a slight mishit and that’s just the style he enjoys even in singles. “I thought I got a good serve at 30-40 but the return was a bit of mishit and I didn’t have a chance to go on top so I changed it and went for a drop shot with both of them on the baseline. And I kind of mishit, a little bit, on the drop and sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. So even if it was a mistake, it was one on my part. And that’s how I play – I play singles that way too and that’s the style I play. Unfortunately it didn’t come off at that moment,” said Saketh.
“I understand it’s a momentum thing but we again had two break chances in the next game but they served well to both of us. And then Leander served really well to force the tiebreak. In the tiebreak, three really good returns from them and I missed an overhead. But that’s how tennis is, one point here and one point there it might have been a different scenario,” he added.
Paes acknowledged Nadal’s impact in terms of the energy that he brings to his team and the Indian pairing’s intention to reduce his ability to turn things around. “I’ve played Rafa multiple times – in Dubai, in Palm Springs, in Miami and he’s one of the best players of the game – there is no weakness to his game. But when you’re playing doubles against a singles player, you try and make his life as uncomfortable as you can. And if you do that for a long period of time, generally you’re going to win more points. Today shows what a champion he is. We made him uncomfortable during the first set and the second and yet he found a way out. He played a great third set. He got so much energy after winning that second set tiebreak and good luck to you if he gets energy. Then he starts running the court wild,” said Leander post the over three hour marathon.
“One of the interesting things is that the leftie on their side played the deuce court and the righty played the ad court, which meant that anytime we had a half volley or a low volley, to find their weakness we had to go for the sharp angles – the low percentage shots – which means they dictated play with their forehands,” said Paes on Spain’s strategy.
Paes also stated that despite hosting the likes of former World No 1 Marcelo Rios, Grand Slam winner Jim Courier and the entertainer in Goran Ivanesevic, no bigger global name than Nadal has played in India which made the stadium feel not large enough for the first time in Davis Cup.
The win takes Spain back into the World Group for 2017 which Nadal claimed “where we belong”.