Ramkumar Ramanathan went down fighting while Prajnesh Gunneswaran squandered crucial chances in his match as India conceded a 0-2 lead against Serbia in a World Group Play-off tie in Kraljevo on Friday.
Ramkumar battled hard but it was not enough to stop Laslo Djere from winning his first Davis Cup match. The Indian lost 6-3 4-6 6-7(2) 2-6 after an intense three hours and 11 minutes on the indoor clay courts at Kraljevo Sports Venue.
Djere, ranked 86, had lost both his Davis Cup matches before facing Ramkumar, who is ranked 135.
The onus to bring India back was on Prajnesh but the left-hander frittered away many break opportunities to lose 4-6 3-6 4-6 to number 56 Dusan Lajovic in one hour and 57 minutes. Of the nine break points, he could convert only two.
Rohan Bopanna and N Sriram Balaji must defeat Nikola Milojevic and Danilo Petrovic in the doubles rubber on Saturday to keep the tie alive.
In the absence of reigning US Open Champion Novak Djokovic and injured Filip Krajinovic, the Indian players were expected to win at least one rubber on the opening day.
Ramkumar pulled away in the opening set with a break of serve in the sixth game. The Indian was solid with his returns from the baseline while Djere faltered on the second breakpoint, sending a forehand return long. An easy hold in the next game put Ramkumar ahead 5-2. He served out the set in the ninth game when Djere hit a backhand wide from an advantageous position. With Ramkumar stranded in the middle, the Serb attempted a passing winner but could not keep the ball inside the lines.
Ramkumar, used to stay mostly at the baseline, charged to the net several times in the second set and won a few points. He's worked on his serve and volley skills with Sanjay Singh, who has worked with the master-of-the-art Leander Paes.
Djere curtailed his errors, hardly lost points on his serve and led 3-2. Before that, Serbian captain Nenad Zimonjic picked up an argument with the chair umpire for overturning a call from the linesman, who called fault on Ramkumar’s first serve at 40-30 in the fourth game. The chair umpire checked the spot where the ball landed when Ramkumar protested against the call and awarded an ace in Ramkumar’s favour.
Serving at 4-5, Ramkumar could not pick up a half-volley and netted a backhand slice to hand two set points to Djere. He then served a double fault to put the match on even-keel.
Ramkumar netted a backhand on the second break point in the second game to trail 0-2, but with a flurry of errors from Djere in the next game, he made it back on serve. There was no break of serve after that but Ramkumar saved a break point in the fiercely fought 12th game to force a tie-breaker. Djere cruised to a 4-0 lead and closed the set with an ace.
Ramkumar had chance to break Djere twice in the fourth set but he did not capitalise on those chances. However, the Serb did not miss what came his way and broke Ramkumar for a crucial 4-2 lead and it was an unchecked march to victory from there for Djere.
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