Ankita Raina put in yet another gritty performance for India, overcoming the experienced Yulina Putintseva in a thrilling three-setter but it proved to be not enough as India lost the Fed Cup tie 1-2 to Kazakhstan after losing the decisive doubles in Delhi on Thursday.
The doubles proved to be a weak link once again as Raina and Prarthana Thombare were demolished 0-6 4-6 by Diyas and Putintseva. Thombare, who is more of a doubles specialist, could not anchor India in the decisive match for the second day in a row.
Earlier, Raina notched a 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 winner after battling hard for two hours and 25 minutes against the world No 81, who was ranked as high as 27 last year. She had scored a crucial victory in first round against China on Wednesday, toppling the higher ranked Lin Zhu.
Before the India No 1’s inspiring win, Karman Kaur Thandi fought well but lacked consistency as she lost the opening singles of the Asia/Oceania Group I tie to world No 55 Zarina Diyas. The 19-year-old played a lot better than Wednesday but eventually lost 3-6, 2-6 to Diyas, who had won her maiden WTA title as a qualifier five months back in Japan, in exactly one hour contest on the DLTA Centre court.
This defeat means that India are out of the World Group Play-offs race. From Pool A, it will be either China or Kazakhstan who will clash with winner of Pool B for a place in the Play-off, scheduled for April.
India, who take on Hong Kong next, will have to play to maintain their place in the Asia/Oceania Group I.
Raina wins dogfight
It was a dogfight from the baseline Putintseva, who has beaten the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Dominika Cibulkova en route the final of St Petersburg last year, was picking everything and throwing it back. But the Indian was prepared to put the balls back on the court, which meant points were long and hard-fought.
Raina got a small opening to get the first break in the sixth game by hitting consistently on the backhand side of the Kazakh and then blasted a forehand winner, but the Kazakh played smartly to save the chance.
However, Raina kept putting pressure on her opponent as she charged the net and Putintseva tried a lob, which went long. It put the Kazakh down 15-30. An error from Putintseva handed Raina two break chances and the Indian converted the second one. It was a reward of her hard work as Raina never let Putintseva breathe easy with consistent returns on her backhand side. Despite having to play a point twice after a call error at 30-0, Raina served out the set at love.
A break of serve was the best possible start for Raina in the second set but some poor calls by the chair umpire and linemen not only prevented the Indian from consolidating the break but she also lost serve. It caused a sudden change in the fortune of Putintseva, who had raced to a 4-1 lead as the Indian dropped serve again.
Raina’s strokes lost the sting a bit and riding on the momentum, Putintseva broke the Indian one more time and served out the set to make it even-steven. Raina’s returns were not as sharp, powerful and precise as they were in the opening set. She lost serve in the third game to let Putintseva take lead in the decider.
She was down by three breakpoints in the fifth game as well but the gritty Indian, ranked just 253 in the world, fought off all break points for a crucial hold.
The slugfest continued and it was 4-4. Raina held her own serve under pressure and broke the Kazkah one final time when Putintseva hit a backhand wide on match point to record a memorable win.
Raina had to hold back celebration after the Kazakh team protested against a call. But the chair umpire was not convinced and Raina bowed on the court, relieved.
Thandi goes down fighting
Earlier, Thandi took some time to settle and started playing freely only after dropping serve in the second and saving a break point in the fourth.
In a nervous start, like in Wednesday’s loss, she was broken at love in the second game as she hit a forehand wide and long.
While Diyas cruised to a 4-1 lead, Thandi finally found some rhythm and started to stroke fluently.
Thandi adopted an aggressive approach while returning as she sent deep balls on both flanks and was rewarded when she earned three breakpoints in the seventh game and converted the second one with an exquisite forehand winner.
However, the Indian, while trying too hard, dropped serve in the next game. Diyas was serving for the set when she went down 30-40 but Thandi hit a backhand long to let go the break chance.
That was enough for the experienced Kazakh to seal the set. While Thandi was fighting a lot better, she was not consistent enough. A flurry of forehand errors resulted in early break of serve in the second set.
Thandi now was serving a lot better and got the ball to bounce, using her height. She served the third game at love and was up 30-0 in the fifth but her rhythm was disturbed when she went for a replay of a point following a debatable call.
Captain Ankita Bhambri had an argument with the chair umpire and all this affected Thandi, who served two double faults to drop the serve. Trailing 1-4, Thandi got one break back with a well-constructed point.
It was important not to lose serve from there on but she lost it at love, allowing Diyas to serve out the match in the next.
India’s chances in the tie depend on the doubles result now. On Wednesday, India had gone down in the doubles after Raina had levelled at 1-1.