Devvarman quells Susanto’s challenge; Bhambri puts on a spectacular show

These seem promising times for Indian tennis. There has been too much in the recent past — the bickering, the sniping, the grandstanding, the hamming even — to hope for a better future. And there have been encouraging signs before only for a reversion to factional fecklessness.

But the air does seem charged with a different energy. Not angry, rebellious energy, but one that’s calmer, inclusive, progressive. It’s a risk reading so much into a Davis Cup tie and the events on the sidelines. Besides, the mind’s eye sees what it wants to see.

But the coming together of the players and the determination of the younger lot to prevent the nastiness of the past is heartening.

Moreover, Indian tennis knows it can’t squander this opportunity; its credibility hasn’t the strength to endure further injury. As a beginning, on court, the Indian team didn’t miss the chance to steamroll Indonesia.

The Asia-Oceania Group I relegation playoff first round might have been decided on Saturday, but there remained the reverse singles. In front of a Sunday crowd that was intent on making as much noise as it could no matter the state of the tie, Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri delivered a 5-0 clean sweep.

Devvarman quelled an early challenge from David Agung Susanto (playing instead of the Indonesian No. 1 Christopher Rungkat) before easing to a 6-3, 6-1 win. Bhambri toyed with Wisnu Adi Nugroho, doing with him as he pleased in a 6-0, 6-1 victory.

Last-minute change

India’s non-playing captain, S.P. Misra, had announced on Saturday that Sanam Singh would step in for Devvarman in the dead rubber, but an injured wrist ruled Sanam out at the last minute. So, under a drying sun, the Indian No. 1 set to work.

Susanto hung with Devvarman for four games. Perhaps having nothing to lose helped, for the Indonesian swung from the hip and sought depth. But the thing about being a top-50-level player — which Devvarman, despite his current ranking, is — is that a higher gear is never out of reach. And Devvarman didn’t even have to step it up greatly.

The Indian used the tried-and-tested tactic against a player with a single-handed backhand: he stretched him on that side, getting the ball to climb uncomfortably, making the stroke more difficult to execute. With Susanto expecting every ball to his backhand, the change of direction was often an outright point-winner.

Susanto had his moments. On one occasion, he met a backhand perfectly, striking it penetratingly down the line, catching even the quick-footed Devvarman by surprise. On another, he held a backhand pass, rolling it cross-court after committing Devvarman into choosing a side. He even saved two set points in the first set.

Too much game

But Devvarman had too much game for Susanto from the back of the court, and he ramped up his serve to end strong. Bhambri picked up where Devvarman had left, and played a first-rate match. The quality of his ball-striking stood out: he could have taken the rubber just by keeping the ball in play, for Nugroho hasn’t the consistency to stay with him; but Bhambri chose to force the pace, unreeling winners from both flanks.

The 20-year-old Bhambri usually susses an opponent out and solves him, but he has worked towards gaining a more direct game. Against Nugroho, who could neither hurry Bhambri nor force him out of position, he showed this style off to spectacular effect.

The result: India bt Indonesia 5-0 (Somdev Devvarman bt David Agung Susanto 6-3, 6-1; Yuki Bhambri bt Wisnu Adi Nugroho 6-0, 6-1).

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