Rohan Bopanna defeated Ricardo Mello 63 76(2)63 in the final singles to complete a remarkable comeback by the Indians as they retained their place in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group, defeating Brazil 3-2 in Chennai. It was the first time that India, which has been playing in the Davis Cup since 1921, has come back to win a tie after being 0-2 down.
Few would have given India any chance of winning, even taking into account the home advantage, after they had lost both the singles on the opening day. But Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi started the comeback by winning the doubles on Saturday.
Somdev Devvarman then made it 2-2 in the first of the reverse singles with a 76(3) 4-0 victory over Thomaz Bellucci, the Brazilian conceding after being overcome by dehydration. Finally Bopanna, who had said on Friday that he would be ready if the tie went to a fifth rubber, proved it by outplaying Mello, who at 81 is ranked almost 400 places above him.
No sign of nerves
It was a superb performance by the Indian, whose attacking game hustled Mello into errors. He served and volleyed admirably, his ground strokes bore the stamp of class and he showed remarkable agility in covering the court. He hit winners repeatedly off both flanks and despite playing the decisive singles, displayed no sign of nerves.
One service break in the fourth game was enough for Bopanna to take the first set. In the second, both players held serve and a tiebreak was inevitable. Here Bopanna was always ahead and he won it comfortably.
The atmosphere was predictably tense as the third set commenced but Bopanna broke Mello’s serve in the fourth game. It seemed only a matter of time before the Indian wrapped things up but Mello did not make things easy for him. Bopanna was up 5-2 and 40-15 on Mello’s serve but the Brazilian staved off the two match points and then another, leaving Bopanna to serve out the match in the ninth game. This he eventually did, winning the match with a backhand volley.
A moment of history
Bopanna was immediately engulfed by the entire Indian team and went on a victory lap wrapped in the tri colour. The spectators gave them a standing ovation and their joy knew no bounds. After all, they had not just seen a remarkable victory but had also been witness to a moment of Indian tennis history.
Speaking to reporters, the Brazilian captain Joao Zwetsch said that the heat was harder on his players on Sunday compared with the previous days. He said that while Bellucci had physical problems, there was no such problems with Mello. “It was just that Bopanna played a great game and deserved to win,” he explained.
For his part Bopanna said that despite playing the decisive rubber, he felt no pressure. “I had decided that I would go ahead and play my game,” he said.
Bellucci retires against Devvarman
Earlier India had drawn level when Bellucci conceded the first of the reverse singles to Devvarman midway through the second set. The intense heat and humidity obviously got to Brazil’s top ranked player, who needed four and a half hours on Friday to get the better of Bopanna, ranked nearly 450 places below him.
His physical problems were not apparent in the first set, in which both he and Devvarman held serve throughout and the Indian took the set on the tiebreak. However, Bellucci admitted to reporters later that he was feeling very weak at the end of the set and he dropped serve at the start of the second. Trailing 0-3 he received medical attention but was clearly in discomfort. Devvarman broke his serve again for a 4-0 lead whereupon the Brazilian threw in the towel.
Devvarman said that he “didn’t see it coming”, referring to Bellucci conceding the match. However, he admitted that he had tried to make the points as long as possible and it was a strategy that worked.
Referring to the 11.30 start, Devvarman said it was, “a team decision and a good call to start the matches at this time. I was happy to see the sun out this morning.” The Indian ace confirmed that he had recovered fully from Friday’s five set match against Bellucci. “I ate well, slept well and had my massages and was feeling good,” he said.
Overall it was a great showing by the Indians, who are developing into a fighting unit. As Devvarman put it, ”this is the best team effort I have been part of.” Mahesh Bhupathi summed up Indian feelings best when he said, “We are back where we belong.”