India had a mixed outing on the opening day of their Davis Cup World Group Play-off against Canada on Friday with both the teams winning a rubber each to share the honours 1-1 in Edmonton on Friday.
Ramkumar Ramanathan gave India a winning start when he battled past Brayden Schnur 5-7 7-6(4), 7-5, 7-5 before Yuki Bhambri gave world No 51 Denis Shapovalov a scare by taking him to his first ever Davis Cup five-setter before going down 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-7(6), 4-6, 6-1 in three hours and 52 minutes.
Shapovalov was considered the run-away favourite given his recent exploits on the ATP Tour but to Bhambri’s credit the Indian was hardly cowed down by his opponent’s reputation. The first set went on serve till the tie-break where the 18-year-old Canadian’s aggressive game plan bore fruit.
He stepped up the pressure in the second and when Shapovalov broke Bhambri in the first game of the third set after taking the second, it looked like the hosts would sail through.
But Bhambri broke back immediately and came through a similar position once again a few games later to take the set into a tiebreak.
The tie-break was a topsy-turvy affair with Bhambri saving a match point at 6-5 before taking the next two points as it was clear that Shapovalov was beginning to feel the pressure.
To his credit, Bhambri concentrated on playing percentage tennis, keeping the ball in play while his opponent continued to go for broke with big forehand winners. Bhambri broke Shapovalov serve in the third game of the fourth set and that was enough to help him take the rubber into the decider.
Bhambri had to dig deep to hold his serve on the second game of the fifth set but the over nine-minute break between the two sets seemed to have allowed Shapovalov to regroup.
The 18-year-old broke Bhambri in the very next to take a 3-1 lead and then kept his nerves to close out the set and the rubber with another break of serve for his first win in a live Davis Cup rubber .
Ramkumar gives India the lead
Earlier, the 22-year-old Ramkumar, ranked 154, needed three hours and 16 minutes to get the better of the Canadian debutant to maintain his all-win record in the Davis Cup in 2017.
World No 202 Schnur was first off the blocks as he attacked the Indian’s loopy ground strokes and took the opening set as the fans smelled a possible upset.
But Ramkumar kept his nerves and his big serves helped him bail out of difficult situations as the 22-year-old saved as many as 15 out of the 18 breakpoints against him.
The fourth set was littered with breaks but eventually, Ramkumar sealed the match with a backhand winner, again well set up with a quality service.
In Saturday’s doubles rubber, the tandem of Purav Raja and Rohan Bopanna will play Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil.