Davis Cup: Leander-Vishnu lose in four sets

Leander Paes and Vishnu Vardhan swiftly moved to a 1-0 lead after taking the first set 6-3 but the New Zealand duo fought back to win the next three 6-3, 7-6, 6-3.

R. Ragu

The players greet each other after the doubles match.   -  R. Ragu

The favourite won the doubles. It was not India, though.

Artem Sitak and Michael Venus put up a fantastic performance to entertain the capacity crowd, as they beat Leander Paes and Vishnu Vardhan 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(6), 6-3.

It was one rubber that was very much in the grip of the Kiwis, as they had a regular top team in the Challenger circuit competing together.It was much in contrast to the Indian combination as Vishnu had been flown into the tie on the day of the draw after Saketh Myneni had injured his foot during training.

However, there was no excuse as it was an entertaining match, as Vishnu rose to the occasion the best he could, with the limited exposure he had to the conditions on a newly resurfaced court. At the crunch, the Kiwis tended to pick Vishnu and he stood up to the task manly even though the pace at times got to him, and he erred on crucial vollleys, as he tended to overdo it.

It kept the tie alive, as New Zealand roared back after having lost both the singles on the opening day.

The onus will be on Ramkumar Ramanathan who will be playing the first of the reverse singles on Sunday evening, and Yuki Bhambri to see India through on the final day. It should be very much a possibility after the clinical performance that they had put up on the opening day.

It was to the credit of Artem Sitak and Michael Venus that they handled the climax with a fair bit of assurance. The Indian pair did save a couple of matchpoints first on Leander’s serve in the eighth game and later on Venus' serve in the ninth.

But, the Kiwis were razor sharp when it mattered and had the enterprise to expect the most improbable shot from the Indian pair and come up with an effective answer.

It was in the fitness of things that Artem Sitak thumped a vibrant overheader to close the match out, for he was just too good at the net.

Once Vishnu Vardhan dropped serve in the second game of the fourth set, it was hard for the Indian team to fight back, even though it played brilliantly. There was some hope in the fifth game when Venus obliged the demands of the crowd — which even evoked the blessings of the Gods with shouts of "Ganapathy Bapa Morya — with two doublefaults.

The hopes of the anxious spectators were dashed as Venus stayed strong to get a 4-1 lead for New Zealand.

What mainly turned the match in favour of the Kiwis was the manner in which they handled the third set, especially in the tie-break, when they converted the second set point. Earlier in the set, New Zealand had saved four breakpoints, two on each of their serve in the second and fourth games that stopped the Indian pair from nosing ahead.

Leander and Vishnu, who had played the London Olympics as a pair and had given a good account of themselves, started very well to take the first set by breaking Venus in the sixth game. The advantage was lost when the Kiwis broke Leander’s serve in the fourth game of the second set and raced away with it.

It was a high quality match and the small errors cost big. No matter how bravely Vishnu stood up to the task, he let the Kiwis inch ahead.

The record for maximum number of doubles wins in Davis Cup is jointly held at 42 by Nicola Pietrangeli of Italy and Leander, for the moment.

The results:

India leads New Zealand 2-1 (Leander Paes & Vishnu Vardhan lost to Artem Sitak & Michael Venus 6-3, 3-6, 6-7(6), 3-6).