The young Yuki Bhambri stumbled to a disastrous start, winning three games in two sets, but had the courage and acumen to pull off a memorable 3-6, 0-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Daniel King-Turner, as India sat on the driver’s seat on the opening day of the Asia-Oceania Davis Cup relegation play-off match against New Zealand at the CLTA Stadium here on Friday.
In the second singles, Vishnu Vardhan led 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-4 against Jose Statham, when below-par floodlights brought an abrupt end to the proceedings. The unfinished singles and the scheduled doubles match should make for a lively Saturday for the spectators, who mysteriously stayed away from the stadium this day, despite claims about brisk sale of tickets.
On a gloomy morning when wet weather had delayed the start by two hours, and the Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda had inaugurated the event, the 20-year-old Yuki suddenly lost the grip over the proceedings after leading 3-2 in the first set.
The future of Indian tennis was looking down the barrel, when Yuki lost 11 games in-a-row. His level of confidence, physical movement and clarity of thought were perhaps at their lowest.
It was to his credit, that the 179th-ranked Yuki was able to respond to the situation, as only champions can. Captain S.P. Misra said that it was a mystery as to how Yuki lost so many games in such a hurry, as there was nothing special about his opponent. Of course, the Kiwi served big and stroked with punch.
The idea was to stay in the points, and Yuki revived his fortunes, as he held his serve in the second game of the third set. Once he did that, the former World No. 1 junior, faced only two more breakpoints in the rest of the match and sailed clear of trouble with a clean and robust game, as the sparse crowd goaded him to his best.
Show of character
Though he had won matches against much better-ranked players like Izak van der Merwe of South Africa and Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan, in the Davis Cup arena, playing his first match at home in front of his people, had an effect on the young man.
He showed character to turn things around when he was not at his best.
Once it was clear that there was nothing physically wrong, though a taped left knee looked to cause the trouble particularly when he fired double faults into the middle of the net, there was no doubt that the Youth Olympics runner-up had it in him to bounce back.
Once he became sharp on his feet and stroked with intelligence, and started serving the aces, the cloud above him literally and physically cleared, leading way to bright light and a brilliant game.
Yuki was a class act in the climax and served out the match at love, and executed a delectable drop on match point and sank on his knees, looking at the team bench with relief.
In comparison, the 25-year-old Vishnu played a roaring game and was in a cruise mode when his smart opponent, the 298th-ranked Jose Statham, arrested his progress with a couple of crisp points in the second set tie-break.
The 262nd-ranked Vishnu had won 10 service games, dropping only 12 points in all, but while leading 5-3 in the tie-breaker, following his 12th ace, he provided an opening for Statham to get back into the match.
The Kiwi came up with crisp backhand volleys twice and drove a forehand down the line winner on setpoint to make it one set all.
After early exchange of breaks in the third set, Vishnu who was broken for the first time in the match in the fourth game, broke back in the ninth and served out the set with two aces, to gain a stranglehold over the match.
After the referee Javier Sansierra discussed with the two captains, chair umpire Christophe Damaske announced that the match would be continued on Saturday morning owing to “dark lights”.
Captain Misra hoped that Vishnu, who has served 17 aces so far in the match, would return fresh with his big serves in the morning and wind up the singles so to preserve himself for the doubles.