Maybe it was just gamesmanship. Or perhaps Anand Amritraj had severely undermined Spanish team’s fitness. After observing the visitors practice in the sweltering heat a couple of days before the tie, he remarked how Feliciano Lopez looked ‘half-dead’. The Spaniards, India’s non-playing captain added, were melting.
Over the weekend, however, the Indians would feel the heat. And they could barely withstand it. Spain completed a 5-0 whitewash by winning the two reverse singles on Sunday, with Marc Lopez beating Sumit Nagal 6-3 1-6 6-3 and David Ferrer brushing aside Ramkumar Ramanathan 6-2 6-2.
The gulf of class between the two sides was never in dispute. What was exposed more in the three-day tie was India’s poor fitness. The hosts did not have enough in the tank to last the tie, and on the two occasions when they posed a semblance of threat to the Spaniards, they neither had the legs nor the courage.
It was apparent on Sunday. India replaced 19-year-old Nagal with Myneni while Spain substituted Feliciano with Marc Lopez, who had won a grueling doubles rubber on Saturday partnering Rafa Nadal. Lopez, though, last played a singles match two years ago. That, too, was an aberration for he is one of the few Spanish players who specialize in doubles. Lopez’s career high rank in singles is 106, which he touched 12 years ago. Currently, he is not ranked in singles by the ATP.
Nagal, placed 380th on the rankings chart, was making his Davis Cup debut. He showed few nerves, though, making a comeback in the second set after losing the first. By now, Lopez was visibly tired. “I could see he wasn’t moving as well. He was definitely tired,” Nagal said.
WATCH: India lose 5-0 to Spain in Davis Cup
He took advantage of it, breaking Lopez early in the third set. However, leading 3-1 and up 40-15, Nagal gave up. He suffered a catch in his chest and couldn’t breathe normally. A medical time out was taken and at that moment, the script turned on its head.
“I saw him lying there on the court, and he was tired too. I just thought I had to stay on the court to see this match through,” Lopez said.
Lopez was smart enough to take advantage of the situation and won six games in a row to win the match in three sets. Amritraj said Nagal’s condition was a consequence of his poor physical fitness. “It showed how much our boys need to work on their fitness. Marc had played a four-set match yesterday, he played another long match today but he could last. And our guys found it tough to last for three sets,” he said during the courtside interview.
Nagal said his case could’ve been because of acidity but no one knew for certain what caused it. “Coach and captain told me I am fit enough for a three-set match. But I was finding it really tough to breathe,” Nagal said.
This wasn’t the first time an Indian player called for a medical time out. On Friday, during the first singles rubber, Ramanathan had to call the doctor after he strained his hamstring. Luckily for him, it wasn’t serious. But it showed that while Spain could deal with the humid weather conditions, the hosts could not.
The home advantage, however, doesn’t count for much – at least weather conditions wise – as most Indian players stay abroad for major part of the year. Saketh Myneni spends more time in USA than in India while Ramanathan and Nagal are based in Spain and Germany respectively.
So it wasn’t surprising to see them struggle even against South Korea in the previous tie in Chandigarh in July. Myneni suffered cramps back then and so did Ramanathan. Leander Paes eventually had to give the players a massage and carry ice for them in that tie.
The poor physical conditions of the players also vindicated the All India Tennis Association’s decision to conduct the tie in the evening instead of the morning start, as advocated by Amritraj. He too had to go back on his words after training in the sultry conditions just for a day.
Eventually, a ‘half-dead’ Lopez and ‘melting’ Spain, too, were too much to handle for India.