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Monday, December 09, 2019

Mismatch and a record: India book spot in the 2020 Davis Cup qualifiers

After Ramkumar Ramanathan and Sumit Nagal gave the Indians a 2-0 lead against Pakistan, debutant Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan paired with Leander Paes, secured the tie with a doubles win on Saturday.

Written by Shahid Judge | Updated: December 1, 2019 8:05:43 am
Davis Cup, Davis Cup finals, India vs Pakistan, Ind vs Pak, Ind vs Pak Davis Cup, Ind vs Pak Davis Cup final, Davis Cup finale, Sports news, Indian Express The Indian Davis Cup squad after the win over Pakistan in Nur Sultan on Saturday.

It took just under 300 days for the India-Pakistan Davis Cup tie to take place – from the day the two countries were drawn against each other- but once it did, the Indians took just under three hours to seal it.

Ramkumar Ramanathan and Sumit Nagal gave the Indians a 2-0 lead after the first day, and on Saturday, debutant Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan paired with Leander Paes, the world record-holder for most doubles wins in the Davis Cup, to secure the tie with a 6-1, 6-3 win over 17-year-olds Huzaifa Abdul Rehman and Muhammad Shoaib.

Following that, Nagal played a dead rubber against Yousaf Khalil, winning 6-1, 6-0 as India ran out 4-0 winners.

Ever since the two neighbouring countries were drawn to play each other, back in February, for a spot in the World Group Playoffs, the tie remained under a shadow of doubt – for non-sporting reasons. Tensions between the two countries first grew after the Pulwama terrorist attack. But after Article 370 was revoked in Jammu and Kashmir in August, with the state divided into two union territories, All India Tennis Association (AITA), at the behest of its players, started haggling with the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to have the tie either shifted to a neutral venue or delayed to November. The world body eventually approved both requests, and the September 14-15 tie in Islamabad was moved to November 29-30, to be held in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan – much to the annoyance of Pakistan’s stalwarts Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and Aqeel Khan.

The veteran Pakistani pair decided to boycott the event, and their federation was forced to field a three-man team of Davis Cup debutants – all college students with little to no tennis experience at a high level. The result of the tie was already a foregone conclusion once India announced a strong team and Pakistan fielded a depleted squad, and the Indians made sure of it in a no-nonsense fashion.

So much so that in the six sets that were played over the three live rubbers, Pakistan only managed to win six games, and had no break point opportunities. So vast was the gulf in class between the two sets of players that the Indians toyed with their opponents and seemingly tried to earn bragging rights within their own team.

“I was trying really hard to match Ram’s score. That was one of my goals,” Nagal said after winning the second rubber against Rehman 6-0, 6-2 on Friday. Ramkumar had earlier beaten Shoaib 6-0, 6-0. “I went with the mentality that I want to win this match 6-0, 6-0, but he (Rehman) did play well in a few of the games, so I have to give it to him.”

By that stage, Shoaib had already set a new Davis Cup record by, at 17, becoming the youngest ever player to captain his side. The previous record belonged to 19-year-old American Maurice McLoughlin, who had led the United States against Australasia in 1909.

On Saturday though, 18-time Grand Slam champion Paes extended his own Davis Cup record of most number of doubles wins in the competition. In 2018, the 46-year-old had won his 43rd doubles match in the tournament, breaking legendary Italian Nicola Pietrangeli mark of 42. That record now stands at 44.

The Indians also had a chance to equal a 28-year-old Davis Cup record. In 1991, Sri Lanka had beaten Syria in a tie that saw them drop only six games – the most decisive win in the competition till date. But the lone game Nagal dropped in his win against Khalil in the dead rubber took India’s tally to seven. But they were not complaining.

For a tie that took 10 months to be held, and with all the drama around team selection, venue assessment and a curious decision about captaincy, the matches in chilly Nur-Sultan were quick and painless. That may not be the case when the Indians next compete in the Davis Cup, against the mighty Croatians in their own backyard.

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