TOKYO, JAPAN: Japan's bid to return to the World Group will have to wait at least one more day, after India's Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna beat Yuichi Sugita and Tatsuma Ito 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) in their doubles match in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas play-off tie on Saturday afternoon.
India broke Japan in the third game of the opening set and again in the 11th on the way to going ahead 1-0. Sugita, who pulled a big surprise on Friday with his victory over Somdev Devvarman in the first singles match, performed strongly throughout the match at Ariake Colosseum, but it was not enough to lift his team to victory.
Japan, which last played in the World Group in 1985, battled back in the second set, breaking the Indians in the sixth game on the way to evening up the contest.
Bhupathi and Bopanna started to enforce their will in the third set, breaking Sugita and Ito in the fourth and eight games, and winning three games at love.
Just when it appeared that India has seized the momentum, Japan rallied back and moved out to a 5-2 lead in the fourth set, before dropping four of the next five games and falling in the tiebreak.
Bhupathi and Bopanna are both ranked in the top 10 in doubles, and encountered more resistance than they likely expected from their opponents on this day.
"We found a way to complement each other today," said Bhupathi. "It got a bit dicey at the end, but we got the job done."
Bhupathi said he was impressed by the performance of the Japanese team.
"Their strengths are their return and second shots."
Japan can clinch the tie with one victory in Sunday's reverse singles, when Japan No. 1 Kei Nishikori and Indian No. 1 Somdev Devvarman meet and Sugita takes on Bopanna.
Nishikori may face a replacement, however, as Devvarman is struggling with a shoulder injury and his status for Sunday's match is questionable. Devvarman had the injury to his right shoulder examined at a Tokyo hospital on Saturday morning.
India captain Shiv-Prakash Misra was encouraged by Saturday's victory and addressed Devvarman's status.
"This victory was important for us. It is a start," he said. "Somdev has gone to the doctor and I will make a decision about him after hearing the results."
Bopanna noted that anything could happen in the team competition, despite the status of players.
"In the Davis Cup, the rankings don't matter," he said. "They had nothing to lose. They played at a high level."
Bopanna said the team is still hoping Devvarman can play on Sunday.
"We are hoping Somdev comes out and gives us the win," he stated. "I am looking forward to it."
Japan captain Eiji Takeuchi remained confident despite the doubles defeat.
"I think my players did well today against two top 10 players," he commented. "I was very pleased with their effort. They have only played doubles together for two weeks. The result was not a victory, but I am very satisfied."
Takeuchi says he is constantly giving his charges advice and inspiration.
"I keep telling them that they have to believe in themselves," he said.
"I tell them you have to fight 100 percent and play big in the important matches."
Sugita, who has impressed observers with his performance in the tie, says he is ready to step up if victory for Japan comes down to the final match on Sunday.
"I will do my best with confidence and believe in myself," he said firmly.
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Captain Eiji Takeuchi (JPN) - 17/09/2011
Captain Shiv-Prakash Misra (IND) - 17/09/2011