Davis Cup: Prajnesh, Ramkumar secure wins for India

First Ramkumar Ramanathan and then Prajnesh Gunneswaran realised India’s designs of leaving Uzbekistan battered and bruised – both literally and figuratively – in the Davis Cup Asia – Oceania Group I Round Two tie at the KSLTA Stadium.

Ramkumar Ramnathan plays a shot during the first singles match of the Asia Oceania Group 1 tie against Temur Ismailov of Uzbekistan at KSLTA, in Bengaluru on Friday.   -  PTI

India boxed Uzbekistan into a position from where any team on a Davis Cup Friday will struggle to recover. First Ramkumar Ramanathan and then Prajnesh Gunneswaran realised India’s designs of leaving Uzbekistan battered and bruised – both literally and figuratively – in the Davis Cup Asia – Oceania Group I Round Two tie at the KSLTA Stadium.

Ramkumar first defeated Temur Ismailov 6-2, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 in a nervy error-ridden match and then Prajnesh, on his Davis Cup debut, put on quite a show to get past the Uzbek No.1 Sanjar Fayziev 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

That both Ismailov and Fayziev had to take medical timeouts wouldn’t please the Uzbekistan captain Petr Lebed. While the former was bothered by a thigh strain – which he stressed was not serious – the latter, who has a Heart Arrhythmia condition, suffered breathlessness. It remains to be seen if Fayziev will be fit for doubles on Saturday.

Ramkumar played a far from perfect match. He hit fourteen double faults in all, including seven in just two service games in the second set. His first serve percentage was a lowly 54 and converted just six of 14 break point opportunities. But it helped that Ismailov matched each of those numbers except the double fault count.

In as early as his second service game, Ismailov missed five first serves. Then, he double-faulted on break point to hand Ramkumar the early lead. It induced a degree of tentativeness in the Uzbek which lasted for large swathes of the match. He played well within himself, perhaps conscious of the high-bouncing surface, and seemed happy to just land the ball inside than go for the extravagant winner.

As Ramkumar raced ahead by breaking again, Ismailov changed tack. He tried hitting deep cross-court shots into the corner, giving the ball ample time to drag itself in. Two such tries brought him the first shy at Ramkumar’ serve at 15-30. The pattern repeated in the next service game, but Ismailov squandered both chances and lost the set 6-2.

Double-fault hiccups

Mid-way through the second set, when Ramkumar broke to 4-3, the task for Ismailov seemed nigh impossible. Then started Ramkumar’s string of double faults. He served three consecutive ones to allow his opponent to pull level. Then at 5-6, he accounted for four more to hand Ismailov the set.

At 2-2 in the third, Ismailov experienced discomfort in his thigh. It turned out a blessing as Ramkumar took the next four games to lead two sets to one. Ismailov’s movement improved in the fourth set but the match wouldn’t be stripped of its capricious character. Serving for the contest at 6-5, the 22-year-old Indian erred with three more double-faults, two of them on match points, before winning.

The Prajnesh – Fayziev rubber, however, made up for all the missing quality. The first set was neck-and-neck until Prajnesh got his nose ahead to win 7-5. Fayziev came into his own in the second, playing an expansive attacking game. He approached the net a lot more, denying Prajnesh the time to work his points. The result was a 6-3 scoreline in favour of the Uzbek.

But from being 3-1 up in the third, Fayziev lost five consecutive games to give up the set. Affected by breathlessness, he could barely move and at times seemed so disoriented that he couldn’t even collect the ball-kids' throws.

That he didn’t throw in the towel was admirable indeed. He recovered his bearings partially in the fourth set. But Prajnesh had switched gears. He served with aplomb and though he doesn’t yet possess the ability to execute point-ending shots from all areas of the court, he was unafraid to try. One such attempt resulted in a superb down-the-line backhand return in the penultimate game. It was fitting that he finished with huge a ace.

The results: Ramkumar Ramanathan bt Temur Ismailov 6-2, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5; Prajnesh Gunneswaran bt Sanjar Fayziev 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.