A big serve out wide produced a weak and short return from Prajnesh Gunneswaran. Borna Gojo duly glided down the court, opened up his body, not bothering to hide his intent of finishing off the point with an inside out forehand winner. Prajnesh stood rooted to the spot. Only, Gojo inexplicably thumped his forehand into the net.
That was the first point of India’s Davis Cup World Group qualifier tie against Croatia. It was a point Gojo had no business losing. The nerves from Gojo, who was playing in only his second tie and third match overall, were evident.
About 90 minutes later, Prajnesh was commanding a rally on the indoor hard court at the Dom Sportova in Zagreb. He pushed the 22-year-old deep into his forehand side, then back to the backhand. The Indian played another angled shot again to Gojo’s forehand side, this time marching up to the net. Gojo, running and on the stretch, played a cross-court passing winner. It was a rally Gojo had no business winning.
It gave him the break of serve in the third game of the third set. He took the lead for the first time in the match, a lead he would not relinquish, as he’d go on to register an upset 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 win. Gojo’s win gave Croatia the first point of the tie.
Incredible stuff from Borna Gojo 🙌
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) March 6, 2020
In the second rubber, 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic extended the lead after picking a hard fought 7-6(8), 7-6(8) win over a tenacious Ramkumar Ramanathan in a match that went on for two hours and 12 minutes. At the end of day 1 of the two-day tie, the Croats hold a 2-0 lead.
It wasn’t the start India were expecting. In fact, with the presence of former world no 3 Cilic in the mix, it was the two singles rubbers against Gojo that the visitors were targeting, and with good reason.
Just last month, the world no 277 decided to forgo his final year of college, at the Wake Forest University in the United States, in favour of turning professional. In terms of Davis Cup experience though, he was called into the line-up for the Finals last November, but lost both his singles matches to then world no 23 Andrey Rublev and former world no 1 Rafael Nadal. And against Prajnesh, he was coming up against a player ranked much higher, 132, and with much more experience. Perhaps that’s what caused the nerves at the start of the match.
Gojo dropped serve twice in the first set, conceding 18 unforced errors and hitting no winners at all. The changeover after the first set was an opportunity to calm down.
And in the first game of the second set, Gojo broke Prajnesh’s serve: staying in the rally on his sixth break point attempt, playing into the angles to open up the court, botching up an overhead smash, but then redeeming himself to slot home a backhand volley. That game was the first sign of what the 6-foot-5 was capable of. The defence grew steadily, and the number of percentage shots over the lowest part of the net increased. The groundstrokes fluctuated between flat and topspin, and the angled shots opened more of the court. The patience grew, and the momentum shifted.
On Prajnesh’s part, the Indian stuck to his guns in the second set, playing the big forehand and serve, using the backhand to keep in the rally and snuff out an opening. The only difference was the way Gojo handled the situation. The Split-native, playing in his first Davis Cup tie on home soil lapped up the support from the crowd, getting them more involved in the match, as he started to dictate proceedings.
He did get broken in the third set, but at that point, he had already taken two games on Prajnesh’s serve, and soon broke for the third time. After an hour and 57 minutes, the tall Croat launched his ninth ace of the match to give the home team the first point of the tie.
The Indians had hoped to exploit Gojo over two singles rubbers and then pick up the third point in the doubles, mainly because Cilic is a cut above the rest in this tie. But Gojo, playing his first Davis Cup tie at home, had his own point to prove.
Australia leads Brazil 2-0.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines