Paes-Bhupathi magic keeps India afloat

Doubles duo posts convincing win as focus turns to todays reverse singles

Paes-Bhupathi magic keeps India afloat

The Indian duo faced some stiff competition from Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares before prevailing 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 in two hours and 19 minutes in the doubles rubber.

The Indian pair saved four set-points in the second set and then survived a tough tie-break of the same set to take a comfortable 2-0 lead, en route to win. Paes, who completed 20 years in Davis Cup, served out the match for India.

India came to the doubles rubber after heart-breaking singles defeats of Rohan Bopanna and Somdev Devvarman, both losing close matches on Friday. Now Bopanna and Somdev will have to win both the reverse singles on Sunday if India are to advance to the World Group.

Somdev will play the first reverse singles against world number 27 Thomaz Bellucci and Bopanna will take on 75th-ranked Ricardo Mello. India had made the elite World Group after 11 years after beating South Africa in an away tie last year, but lost in the first round to Russia to be relegated to the play-off competition.

If the hosts’ players fail to win both the matches, India will be back to Asia/Oceania Zone Group I. Brazil have not entered the World Group since 2003 and have failed to clear the play-off hurdle in the last few attempts.

Paes and Bhupathi, despite not playing together on the ATP circuit, were as good a force as they were before separating and were on top of their game on this day. The Brazilians were a little slow off the blocks but gradually got their rhythm and played tough tennis barring the lop-sided third set.

Paes and Bhupathi remain unbeaten in the Davis Cup doubles rubbers since 1996 when they had lost to Jonas Bjorkman and Nicklas Kulti in the World Group quarterfinals against Sweden. Lee-Hesh began by breaking the Brazilians in the very first game of the match and were soon up 4-0 with a double break.

The Brazilians changed their tactics with Melo returning the serves to the feet of Indians, creating three breakpoints. The Indians saved two but lost the game when Melo hit a backhand winner to earn the first break for his side.

Paes hit two stunning backhand winners in the ninth game to create another break chance but Melo staved off the threat with a strong serve. The second set was a close affair with both the teams in full flow. The Indians did face a strong challenge from their rivals.

Melo, at 6’8’’, was once again successful in his strategy to land the service returns near the boots of Paes and created two break opportunities. However, the experienced Indians escaped unscathed and saved to more set points on Bhupathi’s serve in the 12th game to stretch the second set to tie-breaker. A mini break of serve of Paes put the Brazilians 4-1 ahead but the ‘Indian Express’ refused to throw in the towel and made it 5-5.

Bhupathi sent a hot service-return off Melo on the set point which the Brazilian failed to handle, triggering a wild celebration by the Indian pair. The third set was largely one-sided after Soares was broken in the second game. The visitors had lost it mentally and the Indian win was just a matter of time.

All magic

Later, Paes said their win was all about recreating the magic of their previous wins and confirmed that he and Bhupathi will be playing in the Commonwealth Games next month in New Delhi. “Yes, it was magic that we can come together and play. It has been a while since we came together, but more importantly, we won and kept the tie alive,” said Paes who first paired up with Bhupathi in Davis Cup back in 1996.

On the close second set that they nearly lost before saving set points to eventually take it into the tie-breaker, Paes said the returns were not up to the mark. “We did not return as well in the second set, but in the third, we got them going. Our strategy was to return and cross, and it worked for us today,” Paes said.

On their ability to ‘connect’ despite not playing together on the Tour and coming together only for occasions like Davis Cup or the Olympics or the Asian Games, Paes said: “We have played too much together and it is fairly easy to get our game together.”

Looking ahead to Saturday’s reverse singles, Paes felt India were very much in with a chance to win the tie although it would be a tough task. “It’s a tough ask. The morning match (between Somdev Devvarman and Thomaz Bellucci) will be the key. One advantage for us is that Bellucci played a long match yesterday and had some problems with his legs. If we can come through, then anything is possible,” Paes opined.

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