Two five-set victories in the opening singles rubbers gave Brazil a 2-0 lead over India in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off tie in Chennai on Friday.
After Thomaz Bellucci put Brazil 1-0 up by beating back a gallant challenge from Rohan Bopanna 67(2) 76(7) 75 46 108, Ricardo Mello made it a double blow for the hosts, getting the better of India’s No. 1 Somdev Devvarman 46 62 67(3) 62 64.
While the first match lasted 4 hours 28 minutes, the second went on for 4 hours 12 minutes and, although both were fascinating duels producing much good tennis, the result was a big disappointment for local fans. But the two Brazilians, as the non-playing captain Joao Zwetsch put it, “showed a bit more heart’” and came up trumps.
On the eve of the encounter, both teams said that rankings do not count for much in Davis Cup and the two engrossing matches underlined this.
Bopanna bridges rankings gap
At No. 479 in the world, Bopanna was ranked 452 places below Bellucci, but put up a sterling performance to extend the Brazilian left- hander.
Bopanna, fresh from his splendid showing in the doubles event at the US Open, was a picture of confidence as he served and stroked fluently. But in a way he will kick himself for not securing a famous victory as he had his chances in the second and fifth sets.
In the second set, he led 6-3 in the tiebreak but Bellucci, essentially a clay courts specialist who loves to hit winners from the baseline, saved three set points and made a marvellous recovery in preventing Bopanna from taking a 2-0 lead.
But Bopanna refused to blame himself and gave the credit to Bellucci. ``He hit three winners and there was little I could do. All credit to him,’’ he said.
Again in the decider Bopanna, after breaking Bellucci in the fourth game, surged ahead 5-2. Bellucci staved off two match points on his service, but the Indian had only to hold serve in the ninth game to complete what would have been a major upset.
However, Bellucci achieved the all important break and the set continued with serve until he summoned his last reserves of stamina to break Bopanna to love in the 17th game before holding to put Brazil 1-0 up.
Admitting that it was a big disappointment to lose such a close match Bopanna put it down to a ``lack of experience in playing singles matches.’’
Elaborating he was candid enough to admit that ``I have to think from a career perspective. There is a big difference in my rankings between singles and doubles.’’
He did not feel he made any major errors. ``He came up with the big shots at the right time. He is a baseliner and I did not want him to get into his rhythm. I am a player who takes my chances.’’
Bopanna, however, signed off on an optimistic note. ``If everything comes down to the fifth rubber I am ready,’’ he said.
On his part Bellucci admitted that overcome by fatigue he was about to give up in the fifth set. ``But I just hung in there’’ he said.
Mello rides luck
Devvarman, ranked No. 113, was expected to get the better of Mello by many, even if the Brazilian is ranked higher. But as Mello said ``I was a bit lucky today.’’ Though he also added that he served well at the vital moments.
After the players shared the first two sets Devvarman raised the level of his game to clinch the third in the tiebreak. But this seemed to have taken a lot out of him and he could do little right in the fourth and fifth sets. As he ruefully admitted later, ``I had my chances but a lot went wrong. I had game points in many of the games that I lost.’’
The games indeed were close, even in the last two sets, but as Devvarman put it, ``I could have served better.’’ He agreed with Mello that his second serve was vulnerable today.
At the end of it all the Indian No. 1 summed it up it best. ``It could so easily have been 2-0 in India’s favour.’’ He believes the tie is still alive, though, particularly with India’s strongest point coming up on Saturday in the doubles rubber. ``But winning will be an uphill task,’’ he admitted.
Overall one would have to agree with Mello’s assessment that the Brazilians had practiced hard to get used to the alien conditions.