Yuki Bhambri presented India with a winning start but not before giving the sparse crowd at the Chandigarh Lawn Tennis Association a major fright.
Down two sets against New Zealand’s Daniel King-Turner, the 20-year-old had little going his way but he hung on to produce a dramatic turnaround and give the hosts a 1-0 lead in the Davis Cup Asia-Oceania Group 1 relegation play-off tie on Friday.
It was the first time Yuki had played a five-setter and the Indian came through that test with a 3-6, 0-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 verdict in a match that lasted three hours and 10 minutes.
Later, Vishnu Vardhan was leading 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-4 in the second singles against New Zealand’s top player Jose Statham when bad light stopped play. The match will resume on Saturday with the doubles rubber scheduled later.
The conditions were tough, early morning showers delayed the match by two hours, and the subsequent cloud cover added to the humidity. But Yuki showed the heart to fight that befits a No 1 singles player of a country.
When an out-of-sorts Indian lost 11 games on the trot to fall behind two sets, there was real danger that India’s highest ranked player at 179 will surrender tamely. His first serve deserted him and he racked up a stream of errors as he rushed in to hit his strokes.
Turner was quick to take advantage. His booming serve and power-packed groundstrokes combined with teasing volleys proved too hot for the youngster while his 16 aces left the Indian scurrying.
The Kiwi was coasting till the second set when Yuki, uneasy and battling the mental demons, staged a fightback. He began to string the points together and putting the ball in play.
His face was awash with relief when he held his serve in the third set after being wiped out in the second. The recovery was slow but Yuki was on track. He broke Turner in the fifth and seventh games for a 5-2 lead when the Kiwi, done in by the heat, took a medical break for a calf-muscle strain.
But Yuki didn’t lose focus and managed to serve out with an easy forehand volley. He survived and so did the Indian hopes but could he last two more sets?
He did and though he was not at his best, Yuki had begun to dictate terms. His first serves began to land inside the box with more accuracy and his strokes regained their fluency and rhythm. Turner, though, stood tall with his ferocious serve but Yuki broke him straightaway in the fourth set before serving out the set to even out things.
Now, it was Turner who looked ill at ease. Yuki, confident and spurred by a livened up home crowd, ran to notch up a 5-2 lead when he broke the Kiwi for the second time in the set. He served out the set and match at love when Turner netted a volley. Yuki sat down on his haunches as he savoured the hard-earned victory — one that will stay with him for a long time, its sweetness both refreshing and inspiring.
In the second singles, Vishnu Vardhan put behind a second set loss and looked in good touch before the match was halted. The postponement has put India’s doubles combination in a bit of disarray as Vishnu was supposed to partner Divij Sharan against Michael Venus and Artem Sitak for the doubles rubber. In case Vishnu can’t wrap up matters early in the morning, it is likely that local boy Sanam Singh will get a look in.