MOSCOW: Russia made it 2-0 on expected lines on the opening day of the Davis Cup World Group first round tennis encounter, but not before India raised hopes of a dramatic twist to the tale, on the indoor hard courts at the Small Sports Arena ‘Luzhniki', on Saturday.
India's chances had brightened when the 38th ranked Igor Andreev had pulled out with a knee injury, after having been drawn to play Devvarman in the first rubber. Ironically, Andreev had himself replaced world No.6 Nikolay Davidenko in the original team.
The way the 128th ranked Devvarman opened the challenge, winning the first set in an extended tie-break and had a break point to go up 4-0 in the second set, it looked as if the Russians had a match on their hands.
However, Igor Kunitsyn perspired to a 6-7(6), 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-4 victory over Devvarman to put Russia 1-0 up. There was much less drama when Mikhail Youzhny, fresh from making the finals at Rotterdam and Dubai in recent weeks, proved too hot for Rohan Bopanna to handle as he raced to a 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 victory in an hour and 42 minutes.
Bopanna, who celebrated his 30th birthday on Friday, had played only two singles matches this season, and with a ranking of 416 had limited scope against the former world no. 8.
Quite obviously India's fortunes revolved around Devvarman on the opening day. The two-time NCAA champion shaped well for the fight, but lost his way, failing to drive home the advantage.
The 107th ranked Kunitsyn, who had reached a career high of 35 last year, settled very well and turned the match around by winning the second set in the tie-break.
Kunitsyn seized the initiative with his smart net play. It was no surprise that the eventual statistics showed that the wiry Russian had won 42 of 57 points at the net, for an impressive 74 per cent success rate.
In a patient battle of wits from the baseline, the contest that spanned three hours and 35 minutes was won at the net, and quite appropriately, the 27-year-old Kunitsyn wound up the show with a drop volley.
Kunitsyn had not dropped a set to Devvarman in their two previous meetings on the professional circuit, in Washington and Los Angeles over the last two years.
Once the 25-year-old Devvarman lost the grip over the proceedings, he knew that it was difficult to subdue the Russian, but gamely fought till the end.
It was a golden chance missed for Devvarman, who had won both his singles matches in the World Group play-off tie against South Africa last September in Johannesburg.
India will look up to its world class pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi to win the first rubber on Saturday.