The spectators at the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association stadium in Bangalore witnessed an extraordinary game of tennis. In the doubles rubber of the Davis Cup world group playoffs, the experienced Indian pair of Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna played the match of their lives to defeat Ilija Bozoljac and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia in a must win situation. The 5-set marathon match which lasted for 3 hours and five minutes ended with a scoreline of 1-6, 6-7, 6-3, 6-3, 8-6.
Leander Paes led from the front and in his typical fashion found a way to win while playing for India yet again. His 89th Davis Cup win helped keep India alive in this World Group tie. Leander was aided by a powerful performance from Rohan Bopanna whose serving and volleys kept getting better as the match progressed.
Quick Start but for the Serbs
Bopanna opened the game with a fierce 190 km/hour ace and the intentions of the hosts were clear.To use Bopanna as the battering ram with Paes poaching at the net. There was however nothing like that.
The aggression lasted for only one game as the Serbians won the next 6 games on the trot and took the first set 6-1. Both Paes and Bopanna made a lot of unforced errors and also hit a few double faults, thereby handing their opponents an easy and early lead in just 18 minutes.
Close Second Set
Bozoljac and Zimonjic began the second set in the same attacking fashion and took the first two break points. Their run came to a halt in the third game when the Senior partner of the duo, Zimonjic conceded a break point at love by hitting a volley straight to the net and following it up with a double fault. However, this didn’t affect them much as the Serbians broke back. Eventually the set stayed on serve till 6-5 and 41 year old Paes had to keep his cool to push the set into a tie breaker.
India started the tie breaker well and were leading 4-3. The Serbians pulled things back again and won 4 points in a row, to take the tie breaker 7-4 and seal the set.
Third Set and On The Brink Of Defeat
By now , it seemed that the luck was in the favor of the Serbians. The crowd had gone silent and the Indians were also grumpy and still not playing up to their normal standards. Another patchy service game by India was broken and the Serbians were now 3 games and 12 points away from finishing the whole tie. It was then that this doubles tie changed directions.
The Turning Point
After winning the first service break in the third set, The Serbians were granted a medical break as Zimonjic needed immediate attention to his shoulder. The extra time that the Indians got during the medical break allowed them to think clearly. The composed Indian captain Anand Amritraj probably got our duo to relax.
Paes and Bopanna returned to the court and led an impressive fightback from that point onwards as they went on to break service twice to win the third set, 6-3. The fourth set also started in fine fashion for India with an early break on the Zimonjic serve. The experienced Indian duo showed why they have been the best in business as they mercilessly attacked the opposition, particularly Zimonjic. The 38 year old Serb looked shaky and he was to lose his serve once more to end the fourth set, 6-3 in favor of the Indians.
Fifth Set Thriller
The second break in the fourth set helped ensure that the Indians were always serving first and the pressure remained on the Serbians. Ilija Bozoljac was like a rock for the Serbians with solid serving and error free play. He also had the composure to deny the hungry Indians three break points on his serve by hitting rockets each time. Leander Paes also got into serving trouble and had break points against him, but gamely fought on to hold his serve with a few well placed and spinning serves.
Throughout the fifth set, Paes and Bopanna played like charged up teens who were hungry for more points. Finally the Serbian team cracked under pressure and Nenad Zimonjic was broken for one last time, thanks to some unorthodox but effective retuns from Leander Paes
The crowd celebrated wildly as Paes and Bopanna took the victory lap holding the tricolour.
Playing for Country
At the post match interview, when asked about his secret to success, Leander Paes proudly held out the national flag logo on his jersey and said ” I play for this, the country and the crowd and this is what keeps me going even at this age. We are a great team and the boys have the potential to go out there and win medals for the country at the Olympics” Bopanna too expressed his joy at playing his first major tennis match at home.
Reverse Singles Tomorrow
With this win, India earn a point and are still alive in the competition. Serbia still lead 2-1, thanks to both the singles victories on Friday. India’s hopes now rest on Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri as they play their reverse singles matches against Dusan Lajovic and Filip Krajinovic respectively on Sunday.