India blunted Pakistan’s challenge on the opening day to take a 2-0 lead in the Davis Cup World Group I play-off tie with Ramkumar Ramanathan and N Sriram Balaji rising to the occasion in the high-pressure contest, in Islamabad on February 3.
A fired-up Aisam-ul-haq Qureshi gave his all in a tight opening singles but the intensity of the match and tough conditions took a toll on him as he suffered a hamstring injury in the third set, which prevented a close finish to a hard-fought contest.
Ramkumar served extremely well in the match and also returned better in the second set to prevail 6-7 (3) 7-6 (4), 6-0 while 43-year-old Aisam served 10 double faults in the match.
Ramkumar’s strong serving and percentage tennis was key to the outcome of the match.
He served nine games at love, keeping the points short and crisp.
Down by a set, Ramkumar wriggled out of a tough situation when he was down 15-40 in game eight of the second set and never looked back in the match in which he fired 20 aces.
Balaji, a doubles specialist, was challenged by Aqeel Khan, but the Indian defeated the veteran Pakistani player 7-5, 6-3 in the rain-hit second singles.
Balaji had a grip over the match. He broke Aqeel once in both the sets. His movement, strong serve, use of drop shots all came together for a comfortable win in the end. India are now one win away from advancing to the World Group I.
Yuki Bhambri and Saketh Myneni will now look to seal the tie on Sunday when they take on Muzammil Murtaza and Barkat Ullah in the third match on Sunday. The freezing cold made the conditions challenging for the players. Ramkumar quickly overcame the initial jitters to serve out the opening game at love with an ace. Points were long when Aisam served but when the home favourite hit a backhand service return winner on Ramkumar’s serve in the third game, it was clear that the match was on.
Ramkumar, though, served extremely well. He had fired five aces in his first three service games, closing the fifth for a hold with his third ace of the game.
Aisam charged the net often and also used drop shots very effectively. The Pakistani had served three double faults but he came back strongly in following points to stay unhurt….