Bengaluru: India ensured their fourth consecutive World Group playoff spot as the brand new pairing of N. Sriram Balaji and Rohan Bopanna stormed past Uzbekistan pair Farrukh Dustov and Sanjar Fayziev 6-2, 6-4, 6-1 here on Saturday.
With the win, India wrapped up the Davis Cup Group One, Round Two of the Asia/Oceania division 3-0 to render the final day’s play inconsequential and largely academic. It also ensured a winning start to the tenure of non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi.
Under the long shadow, cast from halfway across the world, of the dropped Leander Paes, it certainly wasn’t an easy tie to come into, for debutant Balaji but the Coimbatore boy looked comfortable from the get go and was particularly effective with his lobs while Bopanna, the senior pro, served and returned with equal flair.
The banner in the crowd said ‘We miss you Leander’. While that may be so off the court, India, on the day, certainly did not.
The Indian duo faced no break point and moreover smashed 16 aces and won five of the eight break points during the clash which lasted a shade under 90 minutes.
The visiting team struggled to deliver on the day with Fayziev particularly poor with his serves, getting broken thrice in six, and finding the net more often than not with his volleys.
The 22-year-old looked quite pedestrian following his brave show in the singles on Friday where he was severely hampered by heart arrhythmia condition. Perhaps the issue played in his mind. Dustov too was equally inefficient in his service games faltering twice in five attempts.
It was a less than auspicious start for the hosts as Bopanna began the match with two double faults. But he managed to hold fort and soon India took the lead when Fayziev hit a forehand long to surrender serve in the fourth game. Dustov then saved a break point but his effort was all for naught as his partner ceded serve yet again in the eighth game, this time Bopanna landing a piercing forehand down the tee. The set ended 6-2.
Athletic Balaji steps up
The second set saw Balaji shining with his athleticism and some outstanding backhand passing shots. Both teams held serve till the 10th game before the Indians broke Dustov to clinch the set 6-4. The lanky Uzbek shot himself in the foot in his service game with a foot fault, a double fault before netting a volley to concede.
If the second set saw a bit of steel from the visitors, there was nothing remotely resembling the same in the third as they folded quickly and decisively. The Indian duo targeted a drained looking Fayziev forcing him into errors.
Bopanna attacked the net and hit the backhand down the middle to set up the service break of Fayziev in the second game. They broke an increasingly frustrated Dustov soon after, where the 30-year-old once again foot faulted and Balaji, who at this point was serving particularly well, fired a backhand down the line, and served out the set and with it sealed the tie....