It was a tie difficult to lose even for the young Indian team. Vishnu Vardhan rose to the challenge and proved that the New Zealand team could be beaten even when he played on one leg, as he guided the host to a 3-0 triumph, clinching the crucial doubles in partnership with Divij Sharan 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-3 in the Davis Cup Asia-Oceania group ‘I’ relegation play-off tie at the CLTA Stadium here on Saturday.
On another day that started with plenty of rain, forcing a delay of nearly two hours, and with few spectators in the stands, Vishnu first sealed his unfinished singles against the Kiwi No. 1 Jose Statham by winning the fourth set in 31 minutes.
In fact, it was such a roaring start to the day that Vishnu, who had led 2-1 on sets overnight, dropped only two points in all in his four service games, against the 298th-ranked Kiwi. Actually, Vishnu dropped only two points in winning the last five games, for a 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-2 victory.
After the 179th-ranked Yuki Bhambri had enacted the phoenix act on the opening day by recovering from a 3-6, 0-6 loss in the first two sets to win in five sets, the fairy tale story of the Indian camp added another chapter on the second day.
Having done very well in the Challenger circuit, and winning a title in Bangkok a fortnight ago, the left-handed Divij and Vishnu combined well to dictate terms in the first three sets against King-Turner and Venus. It was an aberration that the Indian duo lost the second set after leading 4-2, as Vishnu and Divij dropped their serves in the seventh and ninth games owing to a couple of loose points.
In the fourth set, Divij dropped serve after saving two breakpoints in the fourth game, and the Kiwis served as if in a dream, particularly, King-Turner who had started the set with four aces, to take a 4-1 lead. It was here that Vishnu’s legs cramped and he struggled to be up on his feet for his serves and move for the ground strokes.
The Kiwis were unable to capitalise on the situation and dropped serve in the seventh game, but saved three breakpoints in the 11th to eventually force the tie-break. They played a smart game for once in the tie-break and took the set with King-Turner placing a volley after a long rally.
Much to the relief of the Indian camp, Vishnu regained strength in his legs in time for the fifth set, and started serving well, though he was not at his best. After taking a 4-2 lead, by breaking Venus in the sixth game, Vishnu fired a couple of aces apart from a service winner to help the team take a 5-2 lead.
The 94th-ranked Divij, playing his maiden Davis Cup tie, served out the match without much drama, as Venus buried a low forehand into the net, in bringing the entertainment that spanned nearly four hours to an end.
Captain S.P. Misra announced that Yuki would play the first rubber on Sunday and Sanam Singh the final one — both will be on best-of-three-sets format, as the tie has been sealed.
While India will stay in group ‘I’, New Zealand will play Chinese Taipei, and the loser of that tie will figure in group ‘II’ in the next season.
The results: India leads New Zealand 3-0 (Yuki Bhambri bt Daniel King-Turner 3-6, 0-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2; Vishnu Vardhan bt Jose Statham 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-2; Vishnu Vardhan and Divij Sharan bt Daniel King-Turner and Michael Venus 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-3).