Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna kept the Indian team’s hopes alive by winning the doubles 6-3, 6-7(9), 7-5 against Mate Pavic and Franko Skugor of Croatia in the Davis Cup qualifier tie in Zagreb on Saturday.
But, Marin Cilic proved too strong for India No.1 Sumit Nagal, who came in for Prajnesh Gunneswaran for the reverse singles. The former US Open champion and world No.3 won 6-0, 6-1 against Nagal, to seal the tie for Croatia.
After a superb performance from Ramkumar Ramanathan in the second rubber against Cilic, when he lost two tie-breaks in a close 8-10 in both the sets, there was hope that India could fight on the second day.
Cilic may have slipped to 37 in the world, but he showed the Croatian resolve to close out the tie after Franko Skugor and Mate Pavic had run Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna close, having saved two match points in the second set tie-break.
The Indian pair, in a spot of bother when Bopanna’s serve was broken in the fifth game of the decider, broke Skugor’s serve in the eighth and 12th games to pull through.
Bopanna hit a magnificent backhand return of serve, and that was followed by Leander smashing a forehand return winner on the next point. Facing the third match point, Skugor delivered a double fault.
That was the only discordant note from the Croatian side, as the team played top-quality tennis in front of adoring fans, on the indoor hard court.
It was the unfancied Borna Gojo, ranked 277 in the world, who sowed the first seed of the Croatian triumph, beating the 132nd ranked Prajnesh 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the first rubber. That win, followed by the fighting performance from Cilic, had put the Croats on the driving seat.
Interestingly, it was the 45th doubles victory for the 46-year-old Leander, and third on the trot following the wins against China and Pakistan, in partnership with Bopanna and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan respectively.
Leander also took his overall win-loss record to 93-35 in Davis Cup. In the last tie against Croatia in 1995, Leander had won all his three matches, which included a five-set victory over Goran Ivanisevic.