Twin victories by Somdev Devvarman and Rohan Bopanna put India in a commanding position in the Davis Cup World Group play-off tie against South Africa here on Friday.
Somdev put India ahead by overwhelming Izak Van der Merwe 7-6 (5), 6-3 6-4 in the first singles and then Bopanna staged a stunning comeback to upset Rik De Voest 2-6 6-4 6-2 6-4 in the second rubber at Ellis park indoor arena.
A win in tomorrow’s doubles rubber will clear India’s entry into the World Group after 11 years.
Bopanna refused to throw in the towel even after receiving a ruthless drubbing in the first set and turned the tables on his higher ranked opponent, who is placed 99 rungs above him at 189 in the ATP chart.
Bopanna was struggling to get on the board initially but raised his game by several notches as the match progressed.
Like Somdev, Bopanna too took a while to get into rhythm.
He never looked back after breaking Rik, South Africa’s number one player in the tie, in the fifth game of the second set.
After making it one set all, Bopanna played an amazing game as he served extremely well and his booming single handed backhands and forehands were too hot to handle.
Earlier, coming into the tie after his breakthrough performance at the US Open, the 133rd ranked Somdev played with maturity and took two hours and 10 minutes to dispatch his opponent.
Somdev faced just one breakpoint and mostly played from the baseline. Merwe displayed an excellent serve and volley game but unforced errors dented his chances.
Somdev took little time to settle as he struggled with his first serve and sprayed a lot of forehands long.
Merwe, ranked 289 in the ATP chart, on the other hand was confident in the start, played some big strokes and won brilliant points at net.
No player got the break opportunity until the eighth game of the opening set. Merwe set up the breakpoint with an overhead volley but Somdev came back well with a strong serve to save.
India got a break point in the next game but Somdev was unlucky as he fired a backhand, eyeing a cross court winner, but the ball landed on the net and jumped out of the court.
Without seeing a break, the first set stretched to the tie-breaker, which the Indian won to go 1-0 up.
Merwe, who looked a better player initially because of his exploits at the net, backed by a solid serve, succumbed to unforced errors in the tie-breaker.
The South African hit a forehand into net to give Somdev a 3-1 lead, which he later reduced to 4—6 and saved a set point too but his double fault at 5-6 sealed the set for India.
Getting back his rhythm, Somdev curbed his unforced errors in the second set and broke Merwe in the sixth game to be in advantageous position
A furious backhand, after four deuce points, earned Somdev his second breakpoint and with an equally forceful double handed backhand he got that break for a 4-2 lead.
Merwe started to wilt under pressure and handed two set points in the eighth game, thanks to some unforced errors. He saved both but could not stop Somdev from serving out the set.
Already shaken in confidence, Merwe was facing two breakpoints in the very first game of the third set but managed to save both.
However, pressure got the better of Merwe and he was broken at love in the fifth game at love when he double faulted. From there it was just a cakewalk for Somdev.
Bopanna and Bhupathi will take on Jeff Coetzee and Wesley Moodie in the doubles rubber tomorrow