Somdev Devvarman let advantage slip out of hands, losing the opening rubber 7-6 (8) 6-7 (4) 3-6 4-6 to Igor Kunitsyn as India conceded lead to injury-hit Russia in the Davis Cup World Group first round tie here today.
Somdev had taken control of the first singles match after winning the first set and taking a 5-2 lead in the second set but lost the plot after that in a marathon contest which lasted close to four hours.
Kunitsyn took the court in place of Igor Andreev, who was sidelined due to a left knee injury. Andreev himself was a last minute relacement of injured Nikolay Davydenko.
Due to slow nature of the court, long rallies came into play and rather than the power, it was persistence, precision and stamina that was required to earn points.
These types of courts suit Somdev's game but Kunitsyn was brilliant at the net and his tenacity paid in the end.
Now Rohan Bopanna will take on Mihail Youzhny in the second singles and for India to stand any chance in the tie, a win is the minimum it needed.
Somdev struggled a bit to control his strokes after the first five games of the first set went with serve. That was enough for the Russian to create a break opportunity.
Kunitsyn smashed a backhand to go 40-0 up in the sixth game and coverted third chance to get the first break. Somdev had saved a breakpoint in the fourth game.
Somdev though was unperturbed and immediately broke back. Two exquisite backhands did it for the Indian and it all boiled down to the tie-break as the next five games again went with serve.
Somdev came up from 1-3 down to earn the first opportunity and take lead. A big serve set up the first set point but an attempted backhand winner sailed over the baseline, bringing relief for the hosts.
Somdev though came up with another big serve and sealed the first set after Kunitsyn sent a forehand wide.
Crucial lead in pocket, Somdev came up firing on all cylinders in the second set, racing to a 3-0 lead. It could have been a double break had Somdev converted a chance in the fourth game.
The body language of the Russian did not look positive after the assault but Kunitsyn fought his way into the match and turned it around brilliantly. He broke Somdev in the fifth game but only to drop his serve in the next game.
With 5-2 cushion it looked one way traffic in favour of Somdev but soon the match was back to even terms with the Russian winning three consecutive games and stretched it to a tie-breaker. Some line calls also contributed in disturbing Somdev's rhythm.
His confidence back, Kunitsyn unleashed some powerful shots and played intelligently. He set up points beautifully by pinning Somdev to baseline and suprisingly the match which looked like going India's way was again alive.
Momentum shifted in favour of the host player but Somdev too was not ready to throw in the towel and an intriguing fight ensued in the third set.
Another doubtful call on a Somdev forehand handed Kunitsyn a crucial break in the eighth game. Somdev pleaded his case with the chair umpire but the decision remained and the Russian served out the set in the next game.
The two players fought hard in the fourth set but it was the Russian who took points when it matttered most and gave his side lead.