N. Sriram Balaji and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan ensured the presence of an all-Indian pair in the final of the Tata Open Maharashtra for the second year in a row with a fine 6-4, 7-5 victory over Great Britain’s Julian Cash and Henry Patten in the last-four fixture at the Balewadi Stadium on Friday.
Balaji and Jeevan sneaked into the tournament as alternates after the Slovak-Serbian duo of Alex Molcan and Laslo Djere pulled out. The Indian duo will face fourth-seeded Belgians Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen, who knocked out top seeds Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) in their semifinal, in the summit clash on Saturday.
Balaji and Jeevan, full of confidence after their thrilling quarterfinal win over second seeds Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow, duly entertained the 400-odd spectators at the Center Court from the first point itself as Jeevan hit a forehand lob over 6’6” Patten at the net that landed inside the baseline.
The Indian pair made the decisive move in the opening set in the fifth game. A sliding Balaji kept the ball in play with a crosscourt forehand return to which Cash replied by hitting a simple forehand volley into the net. Balaji then made it 30-0 with a forehand return on Patten’s serve which hit the tape before going between the two Brits and landing in.
A crosscourt backhand winner from the 32-year-old earned three breakpoint opportunities and it was Balaji, again, who converted the final one out of those with a forehand smash. Serving for the set, Jeevan did face two break points but held his nerve and did the job.
The two pairs hardly committed any errors in the second set till Jeevan made two double faults in the 10th game to face two set points. The 34-year-old, however, like the first set, hit the right spots on the court with his serve when it mattered.
Buoyed by the escape act from the previous game, Jeevan hit two crunching forehand winners while Cash made two sloppy errors on the forehand volley to hand the crucial break.
Balaji successfully served for a place in the summit clash with an ace into the ad court, much to the delight of the spectators who stayed on for the match, braving the slightly chilly weather in the late hours of Friday night.
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