Somdev dismisses Wisnu; Yuki Bhambri sees off Christopher Rungkat

Davis Cup ties aren’t annexed on the first day, but they are sometimes surrendered.

India’s designs, before even a ball was struck at the KSLTA Stadium here on Friday, was to force Indonesia into just such a position — a position from where, bettered and bruised, the visiting team would lose any fight it might have travelled to Bangalore with.

These designs were realised, India taking both opening-day singles rubbers to secure a 2-0 lead in the Asia-Oceania Group I relegation playoff first-round tie.

First, Somdev Devvarman dismissed a clearly over-matched Wisnu Adi Nugroho 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. Then, as the hot, sticky afternoon gave way to a marginally less unpleasant evening — a purple-ochre sky lit bright white by the stadium lights — Yuki Bhambri won the battle of wills, then the battle of skills, to beat the higher-ranked Indonesian No. 1, Christopher Rungkat, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

Not a threat

Somdev wasn’t masterful — but he didn’t need to be. The 19-year-old Nugroho had nothing to threaten the Indian No.1, ranked as high as 62 before his career was interrupted by a shoulder injury.

The Indonesian played like man outside the top 1500, rolling his first serves in at an average speed of 145 kmph, erring when stretched wide to his left — the single-fisted backhand breaking down — and snatching at the forehand and therefore mistiming it when presented with a short ball.

If anything, Somdev was out off by the lack of pace. A counter-puncher by style, adept at re-directing his opponent’s force, he struggled on occasion to make the play against a lesser stroke-maker.

He was also figuring Nugroho’s game out as went along. As result, he didn’t have the cleanest of matches. But he was solid when it counted and little more was needed. He didn’t drop serve; he broke his opponent six times.

Bhambri and Rungkat were more even than it appears from the score-line, and it says a lot about the Indian’s strength of mind that he handled what was a tricky engagement with such panache.

The match began tactically uniform — both players looked to their forehands to dictate the rally. Much of the first set was a race to hit the first forehand and establish, preferably, a forehand-to-backhand dynamic.

Changing play

Bhambri was quicker to change play and this was the difference in the first set. Seeing that Rungkat was aiming to edge around his backhand, Bhambri made the brave decision to kick his second serves out wide to the deuce court and hit the two-handed backhand down the line when the opportunity suggested itself.

Apart from winning points outright it also made Rungkat reconsider his positioning, leaving him more open on his backhand.

There were two crucial phases in the first set. Bhambri brought out a bold body serve at 2-2, 30-all, surprising Rungkat who had moved forward to attack the second delivery. He broke immediately afterwards.

Then, after squandering three set points and enduring a see-saw ninth game that went to deuce as often as a gambler to the races, he cut a drop shot just right, carving under the ball with marvellous skill to bring up a fourth set point.

Maintaining intensity

Once Bhambri had taken the first set, it was important he further dismay Rungkat, give him not the slightest opening. This he did by maintaining his intensity: 40-15 to the server is often a time the receiver switches off, mentally conceding the game.

But from such a juncture in the third game of the second set, Bhambri forced a break. Rungkat couldn’t make a impression on the Bhambri serve: although he broke once, in the second set, it was after he had suffered a double break.

All that remained for Bhambri was to play a consistent third set. Rungkat made one final attempt, trying for a little more on his ground-strokes. But Bhambri out-manoeuvred and out-powered him while rallying and looked after his serve to give India the chance to finish the tie on Saturday.

The result: India leads Indonesia 2-0 (Somdev Devvarman bt Wisnu Adi Nugroho 6-1, 6-2, 6-2; Yuki Bhambri bt Christopher Rungkat 6-3, 6-2, 6-2).

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