The dream run of the all-Indian pair of N. Sriram Balaji and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan did not have a fairytale ending at the Tata Open Maharashtra as it went down 4-6, 4-6 to fourth-seeded Belgians, Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen, in the men’s doubles final at the Balewadi Stadium on Saturday.
Balaji and Jeevan, who got into the draw as alternates after the Slovak-Serbian duo of Alex Molcan and Laslo Djere pulled out, conceded break of serves in the third game of both sets which eventually cost them in their maiden tour-level final as a pair.
In the first set, Gille countered Jeevan’s serve, wide into the ad court, with a down-the-line backhand return winner to earn the first break point at 40-all. Vliegen duly converted the chance with a forehand pass in the following rally.
Balaji and Jeevan, World No. 114 and 113 respectively, came close to breaking back when they made it 30-all on Vliegen’s serve in the 10th game. However, the 6’3” left-handed Belgian won the next two points, the second one with serve and volley, to seal the opening set in 33 minutes.
The Belgian pair, who knocked out top seeds Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury in the semifinals on Friday, attacked Balaji’s serve in the second set and went 40-15 up in the third game after Vliegen hit two forehand winners, one bisecting the Indians while the other being an inside-out one to find the vacant left corner.
The 32-year-old Balaji saved two break points with his reliable serve but in the deciding point, the Belgians closed the net quickly and drew an error from his older partner.
The Belgians did not let the 1000-odd partisan spectators affect them and successfully served it out for their sixth title on the ATP Tour. “The main part is just to stay focused on what we’re doing and for some reason, it works very well for us, we kind of like soaking it in and me, personally, I prefer playing with the crowd against me than play without a crowd. So, it’s just a nicer feeling. You feel like (being at) a big stage and it just it brings the best out of you. It’s better to embrace it and just stay focused at the same time, “ said Gille in the post-match press conference.
Balaji and Jeevan earned 150 points each which brought them to the cusp of breaking into the top 100 of the ATP Doubles Rankings.
“Our short term goal is to play the French Open. We are looking forward to making the cut for it. We had a target of making so many points in a certain number of weeks and this gives us a very good start,” said Balaji.
They opened their campaign with a 6-4, 6-3 win over compatriots and wildcards Purav Raja and Divij Sharan before beating second-seeded American duo Nathaniel Lammons-Jackson Withrow 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5) in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, the local pair won 6-4, 7-5 against the British duo of Julian Cash and Henry Patten.
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