India, on Saturday, ensured a passage to the World Group play-off for the fourth successive year, and did it in a style that would befit not an inexperienced side full of rookies but a seasoned outfit.

Rohan Bopanna and N. Sriram Balaji, playing together for the first time, out-classed Farrukh Dustov and Sanjar Fayziev 6-2, 6-4, 6-1 in under 90 minutes to give India an unassailable 3-0 lead in the Asia – Oceania Group I Round Two tie against Uzbekistan at the KSLTA stadium here on Saturday.

Bopanna, the senior pro, led from the front. Balaji, making his debut, always found the tennis to match him. The 37-year-old Bopanna served as well as he could have, particularly from the deuce court. But for a couple of double faults early on, it was pretty much flawless. Balaji was excellent with his returns from the ad-side, drilling them deep and giving his opponents little time on the ball.

The Uzbeks, also playing for the first time together, never found that chemistry. Dustov, a Davis Cup veteran of 10 years, showed the rustiness which would come from a six-month absence. Fayziev, who suffered from breathless the previous day, didn't seem fully recovered.

The Indians’ employed the ‘I’ formation, with the man at the net crouching low in the middle before springing either side to surprise the returner. But, its effectiveness couldn’t be quantified, for the away side had far more pressing problems.

Fayziev, who displayed glimpses of his fine service and tidy net play in the singles on Friday, rarely looked the same. It wasn’t surprising that he was broken twice in the first set. He also missed routine volleys and was almost always late to react when he could have poached.

In the second, Fayziev continued his profligacy. But Dustov grew into the match. It at least helped in not letting the Indians scamper away. When Fayziev finally held serve comfortably to make it 4-4, things looked very much in the balance.

But Bopanna had other plans. He planted three aces and hit a delightful backhand drop shot to make his intentions clear. From there on, Dustov and Fayziev would win only one more game and just one more point on the Indian serve until the end of the match.

Dustov was broken twice in succession – once at the end of the second set to give the Indians a two-set lead and another to go 4-0 up in the third to wither whatever little resistance Uzbekistan could offer. He even seemed troubled by a few calls – two of them for foot faults – and remonstrated with the umpire more than once. When he erred with two double faults in the fourth game, Uzbekistan’s regression to the mean was complete.

India will now meet one among the eight World Group first round losers — a list which includes defending champion Argentina — in the tie which will be held in September. The draw for the same is likely to be announced next week.

The result:
India leads Uzbekistan 3-0 (Rohan Bopanna & N. Sriram Balaji bt Farrukh Dustov & Sanjar Fayziev 6-2, 6-4, 6-1).