Paes-Bopanna duo takes India to victory

Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna entertained the holiday crowd with a high quality fare on grass.

Leander Paes (left) and Rohan Bopanna dispatched their Korean opponents in straight sets.   -  Akhilesh Kumar

The rain stayed away for the second successive day, proving the forecast wrong. It suited the host and Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna entertained the holiday crowd with a high quality fare on grass, as they sealed the tie for India with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over the talented young Koreans Seong-Chan Hong and Chung Hong, in the Davis Cup Asia-Oceania group-1 tie at the Chandigarh Club on Saturday.

Against a weak Korean team, which did not have three of its top singles players, fielding Paes and Bopanna was basically meant to give them a chance to iron out their differences before the Rio Olympics.

There was no doubt about the level of game that they could command when they put their mind on the job. As the 43-year-old Paes, playing his 54th tie, nicely summed up, the strong Indian combination had a few more gears at its command, should the situation warrant stepping up on the level of play.

Yet, it had to be conceded that the Koreans handled the stage, the surface and the high standard of their opponents with a touch of assurance, even as their inexperience at the highest levels of the game stood exposed on crucial points.

The Koreans, a right-left combination which featured the 19-year-old Seong-Chan Hong who had cramped at the climax in his match against Ramkumar Ramanathan in the first singles, played well to make it a very entertaining affair. In fact, the crowd was hoping that play would extend longer when the Koreans broke Paes’ serve for the first time in the match, to be on a par at 3-3 in the third set.

However, not in any mood to slacken their grip, Paes and Bopanna, who combined remarkably well, with a combination of exquisite and explosive strokes, not to forget the thundering serves, broke right back and closed the match in an hour and 41 minutes. Paes came up with a delectable drop to bring the curtains down on the Korean challenge.

The Korean pair conceded that both Bopanna and Paes were “great players” with a lot of experience, and it was a memorable exercise to play against them.

It was another matter that the Koreans managed to catch the fleet-footed Paes with shots on his body, twice in the match. Quite the elder statesman, Paes did not retaliate, but Bopanna ripped one return which shook the left-hander at the net, resulting in an instinctive evasive action.

“The chemistry is good. If we had not played good, we could not have won the match so well. It was a very clean match,” said Bopanna.

On his part, Paes praised the stocky left-hander Chung Hong as a crafty player with good touch and good angles. Paes felt that Seong-Chan Hong, the wiry Korean, was a bit slow, as he was exhausted following his singles the previous day in hot and humid conditions.

Paes also praised both Saketh Myneni and Ramkumar Ramanathan for their gutsy performance on the first day.

“Ramkumar handled the pressure well as a debutant, and Saketh did an excellent job,” said Paes, who took his Davis Cup record to 90-33 in his 54th tie.

The Koreans acknowledged the helpful host and said that there was no reason to believe that the Indian players, especially in doubles, would not have been able to win on hard courts.

India will play the World Group play-off for the third year running after putting up memorable fights against top teams of the world, Serbia and Czech Republic, in the last two years.

Of course, the current tie will continue on Sunday, with the two reverse singles matches to be played on a best of three-sets format, as the winner has already been identified.

Captain Anand Amritraj, leading the team on grass for the first time, was quite pleased that his idea had worked well and the players had vindicated his suggestion.

The results:

India leads Korea 3-0 (Rohan Bopanna & Leander Paes bt Seong-Chan Hong & Chung Hong 6-3, 6-4, 6-4).