Updated: July 16, 2016 11:07:06 am
With his opponent Yong Kyu Lim lying flat in his corner, Saketh Myneni walked towards the Indian bench and put his racquet down for a moment. India’s third-highest ranked singles player was leading 5-2 in the final set and serving at 15-15 when Lim went down with cramps. Myneni, who too was battling cramps, hoped to catch his breath but Anand Amritraj was quick to signal him to remain on the court.
It was symbolic more than strategic. Amritraj said the two players were like ‘boxers in a ring’, standing toe-to-toe with none willing to give up. And India’s non-playing captain wanted to ensure Myneni would be the last man standing. Eventually, South Korean Lim gave up and conceded the tie, just like his teammate Seong Chan Hong had done earlier in the day against Ramkumar Ramanathan. The two retirements gave India a 2-0 lead on the first day of the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Zone I match at the Chandigarh Club and virtually sealed the host’s entry in the World Group playoff.
If not for the punishing weather, one gets a feeling things would’ve ended differently on the first day. Ramanathan fought the soggy and damp conditions to register a 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, 6-5 (retd) win over Seong Chan Hong in his Davis Cup debut. Myneni’s path was tougher. He played through pain in the fourth set, which also saw him missing eight chances to break Lim in the eighth game. Instead, he couldn’t hold on to his own serve in the following game. It gave Lim an opportunity to close out the set, which he easily did, and force a decider.
But Lim could not carry on with the momentum and the conditions got the better of him in the first game of the final set, as he fell on his knees. Myneni used the opportunity to take a break himself, going over his strategy with Amritraj. Moments later, he came up with three 205 kmph serves to swing the momentum in his favour. The ‘counter punching’ reminded the 100-odd spectators of the first and third sets, where Myneni constantly served in the 190-205 kmph bracket.
“There was never a chance of giving up. The only thing I thought was I wanted to complete the match. I wanted to compete but the fourth set saw my fingers cramping and later the cramps extended to the whole body. When I fell down, I could not move literally. It was more like of a spasm and we worked with ice on it a lot. I had to keep moving constantly and when I broke him in the first game, I guess I would have drank 15 litres of water prior to that,” Myneni said.
If Myneni’s game was about big serves and drop shots, Lim came up with drop and lob shots of his own to counter his opponent’s serves. The world number 626 matched the Indian in the second set where he managed to take a 4-3 lead before breaking Myneni in the eighth game to win the set 6-3.
But Myneni would match Kim’s lob shots with his low wide shots and dominating net play. He served big when the situation demanded but two marginally wide shots saw Myneni winning the third set 6-4. Lim could not cope up with the humidity and gave up when he saw himself 5-2 down in the fifth. Such was his state that at one stage in the final set, even Leander Paes had to rush with a ice cooler for him.
“At the end of the fourth set, we were thinking of quitting because Saketh was in such pain. Both his legs were cramping, his fingers were cramping and there was a lot to worry. But he showed tremendous spirit today. I don’t remember in my playing days that I have seen such a match. Both guys were on the ground. We also have to understand that both Saketh and Ramkumar have not played a five-set match before and add to that the pressure of Davis Cup. So what they have managed to achieve today is tremendous,” shared Amritraj.
If Saketh had to fight cramps, debutant Ramanathan had to deal with damp grass courts usually longer than what was expected. With ball bouncing to knee’s length, Ramanathan would keep his cool to first win the first set 6-3 against Hong. Korea’s best junior player then showed his ability to play close to the net and with his drop shots working, the Korean raced to pocked the second set 6-2. However, Ramanathan gathered composure and played a solid game in the third set and just when it looked like Hong would stage another comeback, he was down with cramps and conceded the tie.
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