Paes and Sanam, as expected, prove too crafty for Sie and Susanto

India, on Saturday, made sure it stayed in Asia-Oceania’s Group I in 2014, and did it in a style befitting a nation with a rich, decorated Davis Cup history.

Leander Paes and Sanam Singh, playing together for the first time, were, as expected, too skilled, too crafty, indeed too good all-round for Indonesia’s Elbert Sie and David Agung Susanto. The Indian pair won the doubles rubber 6-2, 6-1, 6-4, adding a third straight-set victory to the two achieved in Friday’s singles.

India’s unbeatable 3-0 lead consigns Indonesia to the final round of relegation, where Chinese Taipei awaits it. The loser of that tie will slip to Group II.

Paes and Sanam weren’t as colour co-ordinated as their opponents — the Indians’ shades of blue neither melded nor appeared natty in contrast — but on court, where it really mattered, they had the better understanding.

Paes took a while to settle; Sanam however struck his ground-strokes with a becoming crispness from the beginning, the short back-swung returns off both flanks causing the servers all kinds of trouble.

Susanto was the weaker server, and it was no surprise he was broken six times in the match. Sie put in the best performance by an Indonesian over the three rubbers: he was solid from the back and sharp at the net, once even hitting a volley between his legs.

The only time Indonesia got on a bit of a roll, from 1-4 to 4-4 in the final set, it was because Susanto found the tennis to match Sie.

Paes’s old magic at the net made its first appearance in the fourth game of the first set. The ball held in his racquet strings like a fly in a cobweb before dropping and being swallowed by the court. He would play this backhand volley several times.

Sanam showed fine touch at the net himself, hitting a stretch stop volley that was nearly as good as Paes’s, but also finding space in Indonesia’s right tramlines during rapid net exchanges, of which there were a few.

The patterns of play didn’t deviate wildly. When the Indians returned, Paes, from the deuce-court, used his trusted backhand inside-out chip and the forehand slap shot — both directed in the diagonal towards the server. When the Indonesians managed to pin him to the baseline, which they only did rarely, they provoked a soft ball to put away. But Paes was far too canny, and often made his way to the net, where he’s supreme.

From the ad-court, Sanam hit hard, dipping returns, forcing the Indonesians to volley up. When Paes didn’t swat these away at the net, Sanam ran around the baseline to mop things up: with either the double-fisted backhand or the slightly more elaborate forehand, he picked a gap between the Indonesians at the net or forced a volley error.

Sanam was hardly threatened on serve. Paes was broken once, in the third set’s seventh game. But mostly they played firm, fundamental tennis when serving.

The ‘I’ formation, with the man at the net crouching low in the middle before springing either side to surprise the returner, was rarely employed: if anything, Paes used a variation when Sanam served to the ad-court, standing slightly to his left to tempt Sie into the higher-risk two-hander down the line. But this was no more than a tactical curiosity.

The third set was the most competitive, but the Indians closed it out impressively.

The result: India leads Indonesia 3-0 (Leander Paes & Sanam Singh bt Elbert Sie & David Agung Susanto 6-2, 6-1, 6-4).

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