Romanian No.2 Adrian Ungur was the hero of the day in his country’s World Group play-off tie against Ecuador in Bucharest when he battled to victory from two sets down in the second rubber of the day to give the hosts a commanding 2-0 overnight lead.
The home nation’s No. 1 Victor Hanescu had put Andrei Pavel’s team in control with a one-sided 62 62 62 victory over Ivan Endara, but when Ecuador’s stand-in No. 1 Giovanni Lapentti grabbed the first two sets against Ungur it had looked like it would be honours even going into Saturday.
But while Lapentti, who had been promoted to lead his team when older brother Nicolas ruled himself unfit for the singles, began to tire in the third set, Ungur went from strength to strength to notch up a gutsy 67(2) 46 63 64 61 win – his first Davis Cup by BNP Paribas victory in only the second rubber of his career.
The 25-year-old’s recovery was all the more remarkable given the match was played in temperatures reaching 31 degrees Celsius at the Centrul National de Tenis and on an energy-sapping, relatively slow red clay surface, purpose-built for the tie.
Lapentti's first two sets were near perfect
It had been the more experienced Lapentti who produced the better tennis early on in his 42nd Davis Cup rubber. With a ranking 153 places lower than his opponent’s, he silenced the locals by playing a near-perfect tie-break to steal the opener and held on magnificently when under extreme pressure serving for the second set at 5-4, saving a break point by chasing down a drop shot and punching a reflex volley onto the line.
But the signs that world No. 130 Ungur was working his way into the match were evident from early in the third when he raced into a 3-0 lead. Although Lapentti recovered a little ground midway through the set it proved to be the beginning of the end for the 27-year-old as Ungur began to slowly but surely reduce the deficit.
Judging by Lapentti’s body language in the fourth, he was quickly losing energy, patience and belief as errors began to creep into his game. After Ungur saved a trio of break points in the second game he took control, breaking Lapentti in the seventh game. As the players changed ends the venue’s DJ seemed to be sending Ungur a personal message as Gloria Gaynor’s hit ‘I Will Survive’ bellowed out of the courtside speakers.
Throwing in frequent drop shots, no doubt intended to test Lapentti’s tiring legs still further, Ungur quickly finished off the fourth and the decider was one-way traffic. The Romanian broke three times as Lapentti’s challenge died a death. When Lapentti’s last tired backhand flew long Ungur was embraced by his captain and hoisted high into the air.
“At the beginning I thought I wasn’t going to win,” Ungur admitted. “I was down, but the crowd were behind me and I’m very happy. My captain was telling me I needed to move him around some more and make him play a lot [of balls]. I felt he was getting tired so I said, “OK, let’s [make him] run a little bit to see how he’s feeling.’ This victory will give me a lot of confidence.”
Hanescu destroyed Endara earlier in the day
Earlier on, the tie had begun perfectly for the hosts when Hanescu had destroyed the visitors’ No.2 Endara. The world No.54 had few problems making a ranking gap of well over 300 places all too apparent as he crushed his 22-year-old opponent in an hour and 49 minutes.
Hanescu blended powerful clay court tennis from the back with some astute drop shots and came forward at all the right moments to brush aside the world No.408 who was playing his first ever live Davis Cup singles match.
The 29-year-old local even had time to treat the crowd to a so-called ‘hot dog’ early in the third, returning an Endara lob through his legs before finishing off the point in style at the net. All in all, it was a devastating performance from Hanescu. At the conclusion he had found the mark with 84 per cent of his first serves and allowed his opponent just eight points on return. He broke Endara on six occasions.
“I was very happy with the way I served,” Hanescu said afterwards. “I used the kick serve a lot which was good as he’s a short guy and I had a very good percentage on first serve. It was a very good match for me. I’m happy I didn’t spend too much time on court.”
Ecuador’s nominated pairing of Giovanni and Nicolas Lapentti now need to win Saturday’s doubles against Hanescu and world No. 18 Horia Tecau to keep their dreams of World Group tennis in 2011 alive.
“We know it’s going to be really tough and they’re full of confidence,” Ecuador’s captain Raul Viver admitted. “The way they came back in the second rubber is a big boost for them. It’s not looking too good for us at the moment.”
His opposite number Pavel was understandably delighted with his team’s efforts. “All our concentration will be on tomorrow and if we win we can relax a little. One hundred per cent we want to finish it with the doubles.”