Vishnu Vardhan was the star for India on Saturday. The 25-year-old, shouldering the dual responsibility of playing the second singles and the doubles rubber, rose to the occasion as India took an unbeatable 3-0 lead in the Davis Cup Asia-Oceania Group 1 relegation play-off against New Zealand.
Rain again delayed the start by two hours and Vishnu took the court as a man in hurry. Leading two sets to one against New Zealand No 1 Jose Statham on Friday evening when the match was halted owing to bad light, Vishnu briskly wrapped up the issue, dropping only two games in 31 minutes, to notch up a 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 6-2 victory and gave India a 2-0 lead.
He was back on court within an hour with good friend and debutant Divij Sharan for the doubles match that went to five sets for a marathon three hours and 51 minutes. The momentum swung sharply and Vishnu had to overcome fatigue and cramps before he and Divij dug out a 7-6 (7-3), 4-6, 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3 victory over Daniel King-Turner and Michael Venus. It was commendable the way Vishnu kept up in the energy-sapping conditions.
He was irrepressible against Statham in the morning, cracking winners from all corners of the court; his serve powerful and intimidating. Statham was gracious in defeat. “He went all boom, boom today. I could not do anything. He was just too good,” he said.
The result forced New Zealand to change its doubles combination in their bid to stay alive in the tie. King-Tuner, despite going through a five-setter on Friday, replaced Artem Sitak. He and Venus indeed made a formidable pair. The two served and returned with flair. Venus, particularly, showed good reflexes at the net.
They were off to a rousing start with New Zealand not losing a point in the first four service games. But the Indians matched them stroke for stroke. Vishnu’s serve was the weapon and Divij complemented him by producing some delectable volleys.
The match could have gone either way if the New Zealanders were able to seize the missed chances. Vishnu and Divij have been companions on Tour for long and their chemistry reflected on court.
With both pairs serving strongly, the first set tumbled into the tie-breaker. India prevailed with Vishnu closing out the set with a forehand volley.
The two carried the momentum in the second set when the Indian pair broke Venus for a 4-3 lead but let the Kiwis off the hook immediately. The visitors roared back to draw level.
With King-Turner consistently banging down aces, the Indians pounced on Venus’s floundering service game. They shot to a 4-1 lead in the third set and were soon up two sets to one.
By then Vishnu began to show signs of fatigue, and could barely put the ball into the play. Divij showed good temperament and covered for his partner.
The Indians had a good opportunity to clinch the match when at 5-5, after a break exchange, they were presented with three break points on Venus’ serve, but frittered them away. The set again spilled into the tie-breaker, where the Kiwis proved too hot for the Indians.
By the decider, Vishnu had fairly recovered. Two backhand errors in Venus’ serve in the sixth game gave them the lead before Divij held his nerve at 30-30 to serve out the set and the match. With the tie in their pocket, India will now play Yuki Bhambri in the first reverse singles and Sanam Singh in the second on Sunday.