If there were any doubts that Somdev Devvarman is the rightful inheritor to Leander Paes’ mantle in the Davis Cup, they were put to rest by his stellar display at Novi Sad against defending champions Serbia.
Novak Djokovic—the World No. 3 and architect of the successful Serbian title run last year—opted out of the first round tie.
India were hit hard by Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi’s withdrawals due to injuries. The doubles point was considered to be in the bag with the duo around.
The first match featured Rohan Bopanna and Viktor Troicki. The Serb seemed to be cruising to an easy win when he clinched the first two sets 6-3, 6-3. In a pulsating fight-back that belied his ranking of 629, the Coorgi pulled out his repertoire of serve-and-volley tricks to leave his opponent floundering and level the match two sets all, 7-5, 6-3.
Playing wonderful tennis against a superior opponent and a hostile crowd that jeered every winner and cheered every error, the Bangalore-based pro was, however, drained by his fourth set exertions.
The final set saw sanity restored to the proceedings. The Serbian romped home 6-3.
Bopanna’s courage was not lost on his younger teammate. Somdev Devvarman came out all guns blazing against Janko Tipsarevic.
The bespectacled Serbian was coming off an ATP title in DelRay. He found it difficult to find his rhythm against Somdev's steady baseline game and precise serving.
The Indian finished victor in three straight sets 7-5, 7-5, 7-6 (7-3).
The second day’s play witnessed the Indian protagonists back on court for the doubles encounter.
Their opponents: Ilja Bozoljac and Nenad Zimonjic.
The Indians stormed to a first set lead 6-4. The next two sets went the Serbians’ way, 6-3, 6-4.
The fourth set ended in a tie-breaker, with the Indians relinquishing an early 4-1 lead. The Serbs vanquished the make-shift pair 7-5 (12-10).
Somdev took the court early on Sunday for the crucial rubber against Viktor Troicki.
The exertions of the past two days weighed heavy on his tiring limbs. The World No. 18 needed no second invitation to drive home his advantage.
He won in straight sets 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 to clinch the tie for his team and spark wild celebrations in the partisan crowd.
Tipsarevic knocked over Karan Rastogi 6-0, 6-1 in the inconsequential final tie, for the score to read 4-1 in the home side’s favour.
Serbia now take on Sweden in the quarterfinals in July.
India will have to wait till the Zone Group second round ties finish in July to know whom they will face to stay in the World Group, come September.
The 4-1 scoreline does not tell the whole story. Davis Cup is about guts and glory; rankings mean nary a thing.
It is about who can play his heart out for his country, braving alien conditions and hostile environments.
While the press and online media covered the Davis Cup tie adequately, the news channels disappointed. Updates were flashed as by-lines while cricket experts waxed eloquent on India’s chances against an un-fancied Irish team in the ICC World Cup.
Despite the recent Commonwealth and Asian Games record medal hauls, the TV channels regressed to touting cricket as the choice of millions.
Quote of the day:
The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ – Ronald Reagan