Paes creates world record in India’s stunning comeback win

Paes combined with Rohan Bopanna to not only grab a record 43rd win but also guided India to the World Group Play-offs with a sensational 3-2 win over China here on Saturday.

Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna laid the foundation for India's win against China.   -  AP

India preserved its best for the last as Prajnesh Gunneswaran tamed Wu Yibing 6-4, 6-2 to take the team to an unforgettable 3-2 victory over China in the Asia Oceania Davis Cup tennis tournament on Satruday.

It required a miracle after the disaster on the opening day when India lost both the singles matches, and the revival sprang on the foundation laid by Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes who won the doubles 5-7, 7-6(5), 7-6(3) against Mao-Xin Gong and Ze Zhang.

The revival was miraculous as the Chinese were two points away from sealing the tie, when they led 5-3 in the second set tie-break of the doubles, and the experienced Ze Zhang was serving at 5-4.

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The doubles win elevated the 44-year-old Leander as the sole owner of the most number of doubles win at 43, but it was Bopanna who shouldered the responsibility at the crunch that brought the team back to life.

It was Bopanna who won the two points on Ze Zhang’s serve with a return winner and an overhead at the net, and he volleyed on Leander’s serve to clinch the first set for India in two days.

Thereafter, India did not drop a set in the tie, and stepped on the accelerator for a fairytale finish.

The team’s No.1 player Ramkumar Ramanathan handled the tricky Di Wu, who came in place of Ze Zhang, with increasing authority and the left-handed Prajnesh who was not even kept as a reserve originally, put the icing on the cake by outclassing the 18-year-old Yibing Wu, a future star, with an authoritative performance, when he fired seven aces and dropped only 11 points in all in his service games, for a 6-4, 6-2 victory.

The only other time India has won a Davis Cup tie after being down 0-2 was in 2010 against Brazil in Chennai. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi won the doubles and then Somdev Devvarman and Rohan Bopanna won their reverse singles matches.

It was some sight to watch the captain Mahesh Bhupathi sprint to Prajnesh to celebrate the victory, after Yibing Wu sprayed the last shot, and Prajnesh himself jumping in confusion for a chest butt, before settling for the warmth of a hug.

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"We fought as a team. This is the first time in the history of Indian tennis we have so much depth in the men’s game. With Yuki Bhambri missing, I was able to call on three others who delivered for us. We are ecstatic with the way we were able to turn the tie around. Doing it away, from 0-2, is even more special’’, said Mahesh, understandably elated.

As an architect of a part of Leander’s impressive record, Mahesh was equally happy. "Am very excited that it has finally happened. It was always inevitable that it would. Now an Indian holding the record is very special for our sport, especially since I believe this record will stay very long’’, he said, about Leander leaving Italian Nicolo Pietrangeli behind on the record books.

Bringing Prajnesh was the master stroke, even though it has looked obvious for most, after Sumit Nagal had played below par against Ze Zhang on the opening day.

"After seeing Yibing Wu on day one, I diidn’t think Sumit’s game would match up well to him. Prajnesh has been looking good in practice and was hungry to play. So, I took a punt’’, said Mahesh.

Indeed, Prajnesh was the trump card this day. He was light on his feet and served as if in a dream, despite dropping serve once in the eighth game of the first set while serving for the set at 5-2.

"I can’t be happier as I played a near perfect match in which I kept a very high intensity throughout. The team had done well to give me the opportunity to play at 2-2. The pressure was on the Chinese. Our entire team kept me going’’, said the 28-year-old Prajnesh.

He added, "It is very difficult to explain it in words. It couldn't have come at a better time. At 2-2, in the reverse singles. Davis Cup is unlike anything else. It is possibly my biggest win. I also made a Challenger final which is a great personal achievement. But this may edge it because of the sheer weight of the moment. I had never ever played a deciding rubber. So certainly up there with the best."

The 23-year-old Ramkumar thanked the team for the faith despite the bad start. "I thank the captain and every member of the team for staying positive and giving us the belief that we can turn the tie around. We started well with the doubles. Lee broke the record, and am so happy for him. My match was really close. I was very happy to win a crucial point and give the team a chance in the fifth rubber. Praj did a great job’’, said Ramkumar.

While China’s bid for entering the World Group play-off failed once again since 1990, India qualified for the play-off for the fifth year in a row. It had played well against Serbia, Czech Republic, Spain and Canada in the last four years, and would attempt to enter the World Group this time.

Result

India bt China 3-2 (Rohan Bopanna & Leander Paes bt Mao Xin Gong & Ze Zhang 5 7, 7-6(5), 7-6(3); Ramkumar Ramanathan bt Di Wu 7-6(4), 6-3; Prajnesh Gunneswaran bt Yibing Wu 6-4, 6-2).