Stalwart and Cup rookie combine to win doubles rubber
The spectators packed the arena to watch multiple Grand Slam champion and Olympic medallist Leander Paes in action. And, Purav Raja rose to the occasion too matching his iconic partner volley for volley as rookie and stalwart won the doubles rubber 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-2 against Lim Young-Kyu and Nam Ji Sung to keep host India alive in the Davis Cup Asia-Oceania group ‘I’ match against Korea at the R.K. Khanna Stadium here on Saturday.
The Koreans may have been perplexed at the way the celebrations unfolded — confetti littered the court and the crowd gave a standing ovation — but in a tie in which India has been considerably restricted in terms of access to quality singles players owing to the boycott of 11 players, winning the doubles was more than mere consolation.
“We didn’t order it,” said captain S.P. Misra, when queried about the zealous celebrations.
“One of the rockets went close to my ear. I am quick, but not that quick,” said Paes, as he corroborated his skipper’s comment that the celebration had “happened automatically”.
However, the grim fact remains that Korea leads 2-1, and had given enough evidence to suggest that it would be the favourite to wrap up the match on the final day.
“We have a big job on hand. Tomorrow, we have a tough test,” said Paes, as he conceded that both the Korean singles players were quite solid.
Paes was all praise for the 27-year-old Raja, who has reached a career-best doubles rank of 120, winning three Challenger doubles titles along the way.
“Purav played really well,” said Paes. He said that the training stints that he had had with Raja whenever he was home in Mumbai in the last two years, had proven handy.
Paes said that Raja, coached for many years by Sandeep Kirtane, had grabbed the opportunity to showcase his game.
“It was the biggest match of my life. It was an honour, and I was delighted to partner Leander, who has the quickest hands. It felt great,” said Raja who added that butterflies in the stomach would be an understatement to explain his anxiety before the match.
The Koreans had the game to tease the Indian pair, as they stretched the first game to ten minutes, but Paes served well to save four breakpoints, and ensured that India got off to a good start.
The Koreans were broken in the second game, but got the break back on Raja’s serve in the seventh game.
The Koreans possibly got under Paes’s skin in the eighth game, when Lim Young-Kyu tagged him twice.
The Indian pair, however, stepped up and broke Young-Kyu at love in the tenth game, as the Korean delivered a double-fault on set-point that had been set up with a delectable drop by Paes.
The second set was a lot trickier, as the Koreans broke Raja in the fifth game and Paes in the eleventh game, to be in the lead twice.
But the Indian pair broke them in the eighth and twelfth games. Paes almost fell as he flew to his left for a fabulous backhand volley to set up the breakpoints in the 12th game.
In the tie-break, the Indian pair bounced back from 0-3 — and Paes acknowledged that playing a number of tie-breaks in training in the last four days had helped, and praised his erstwhile teammate and coach Zeeshan Ali for handling the preparation very well.
In the third set, the Indian pair was just too good, and the Koreans folded up.
Paes also had the satisfaction of vengeance — he hit Young-Kyu as he hit him with a shot to break Sung’s serve in the fifth game. In the seventh game, he placed a volley between Sung’s legs to assert his mastery at the net.
When the Indian pair broke Young-Kyu’s serve, Paes called Raja in for a chest-bump to express his appreciation.
And when Raja served the match out in the eighth game — at love — Paes lifted him in celebration, and later hoisted captain Misra as well.
V.M. Ranjeet and Vijayant Malik will now have to lift their game if they are to entertain any hopes of pulling off a miracle on Sunday in the reverse singles.
India trails Korea 1-2 [Leander Paes and Purav Raja Lim Yong-Kyu and Nam Ji Sung 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-2].