Davis Cup 2019 Qualifier: Italians sizzle on grass, coast to 2-0 lead

Italy's Andreas Seppi and Matteo Berrettini made short work of Ramkumar Ramanathan and Prajnesh Gunneswaran respectively to to take a healthy 2-0 lead over India in the Davis Cup 2019 Qualifier played in Kolkata.

Prajnesh Gunneswaran in action against Matteo Berrettini.   -  Debasish Bhaduri

The Italians needed all of two hours and eight minutes to leave India on the brink on the opening day of the Davis Cup qualifier, at the Calcutta South Club on Friday.

First, the experienced Andreas Seppi weathered a challenge — especially in the first set — from Ramkumar Ramanathan to win 6-4, 6-2 in an hour and 11 minutes, before the dashing young Matteo Berrettini put on a grand show of his emerging potential by thrashing Prajnesh Gunneswaran 6-4, 6-3 in under an hour. 

All eyes will now be on the must-win doubles rubber first-up on Saturday involving Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan.



Ramkumar Ramanthan in action against Andreas Seppi on Friday.   -  Debasish Bhaduri

When Ramkumar took to the court on the lush, sunbathed South Club grass and managed to stay with Seppi for the first seven games, the crowd sensed a close fight. The 24-year-old raised expectations further by earning a break opportunity in the eighth only to fluff it by hesitating to attack a second serve and then sending a backhand long.

The contest turned swiftly when Seppi broke immediately after, even as Ramkumar held two game points. The Indian didn’t help himself one bit by serving three double faults. But Seppi, when it mattered, stepped it up.

A sequence of two great passes -- one cross-court and the other down the line -- and a fierce return drilled straight at the shoe laces of Ramkumar did the job. He held to love to close out the set. By then, the 34-year-old had grown into the match and when Ramkumar lost his serve to love in the third game of the second set, the resistance had snapped.

Andreas Seppi cruised to a 6-4, 6-2 win over Ramkumar Ramanathan.   -  Debasish Bhaduri


“I went in believing I had a chance," said Ramkumar later. "But I hesitated on a few shots. It was nerves and the tension. Also matches on grass change pretty fast. I could have won the first set but I ended up losing it. It is a learning experience."

The Prajnesh-Berrettini contest never took off. Berrettini is very much a man of the times. His favourite movie is the sci-fi classic Interstellar, musician is rapper Eminem and TV show is crime drama Breaking Bad. He also played the kind of tennis just as fashionable.

The 22-year-old’s first-strike approach shook Prajnesh. There was break of serve in the opening game of each set, forcing Prajnesh to play catch-up throughout. It was a situation he never got a hang of. Berrettini did come under pressure a few times, but there was always a response, as the 12 of 14 second serve points won show.

In the history of Davis Cup, India has come back from 2-0 down just twice -- in 2010 against Brazil and in 2018 versus China. In both, Bopanna and current captain Mahesh Bhupathi had integral roles. In 2010, Bhupathi won the doubles and  Bopanna the decisive fifth rubber. In the China tie, played under Bhupathi, Bopanna secured the doubles. Will there be a redux?

The result: Italy leads India 2-0 (Andreas Seppi bt Ramkumar Ramanathan 6-4, 6-2; Matteo Berrettini bt Prajnesh Gunneswaran 6-4, 6-3).

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