Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan bounced back from one-set down to beat Simone Boelleli and Matteo Berrettini and but with Prajnesh Gunneswarn losing the first of the reverse singles ties, India’s hopes of a comeback were ended in the Davis Cup Qualifiers in Kolkata on Saturday.
Prajnesh went down 1-6, 4-6 against Italy’s most experienced player Andreas Seppi as India lost the tie 1-3.
Seppi brushed aside India’s number one Prajnesh Gunneswaran 6-1, 6-4 in the first reverse singles tie at Kolkata’s grass court after India avoided a whitewash by taking the doubles.
The 34-year-old Seppi returned unfazed by Italy’s doubles loss to outplay the 102-ranked Prajnesh in just over an hour to take his team into the finals in Madrid in November. The final dead singles game was not played.
“It was an important win for us. Of course after a tough doubles, I had to come out and play a deciding single in the end and I played a solid match,” Seppi said after the win.
“Aim is to stay healthy because I am not the youngest guy on tour. I hope my body holds up and I can still enjoy some tennis in the coming years,” Seppi, who is ranked 37 in the ATP singles chart, added.
Under the new format adopted by the International Tennis Federation, the Davis Cup will be decided at a season-ending 18-team event between the week of November 18-24.
Seppi is not looking too far into the tennis calendar but is confident of a strong showing by his team.
“It’s a tough event and it’s end of the season so you never know how you feel as everybody is tired. So depends in which condition you go there but I think we have a strong team,” he said.
Seppi hit seven aces against the left-handed Indian to silence the home crowd that had their hopes raised after the doubles result.
India’s doubles pair impresses
Living up to their respective individual reputations in doubles, the newly-formed Indian pair impressed in their comeback win against the Italian combination that was changed at the last minute.
In the must-win rubber, Bopanna and Sharan upped the ante by breaking newcomer Berrettini in the fourth game of the second set before sealing the issue 4-6 6-3 6-4 in an one-hour 43 minutes battle at Calcutta South Club.
Making a comeback for the first time since 2012, southpaw Sharan complemented senior pro Bopanna and wrapped it up with a forehand volley winner in the end.
Down 0-2 after losing their two singles matches in the opening day, India were left with too much to do on day two.
“We had good understanding and kept fighting,” Sharan said giving credit to his senior partner.
Playing his third Davis Cup match, the Delhi lad said: “Yes, there was pressure playing for India. But it felt normal having Rohan by my side. I really enjoy playing on grass. I just kept it simple without trying anything extra.”
Earlier in the day, Berrettini’s sterling show in his debut Friday earned him a spot in the doubles match in place of their top player Marco Cecchinato. Berrettini, who had won the St Petersburg Open last year with Italian top-ranked Fabio Fognini, impressed with his big, powerful serves in company of doubles specialist Bollelli who had won the 2015 Australian Open.
But gradually, Bopanna outwitted Berrettini by setting up the games for Sharan to seize on the opportunities with his accurate crosscourt returns. The momentum swung in favour of the Indian pair after they broke Berrettini in the fourth game of the second set.
Sharan’s fine volley into the open court was too much for the young Berrettini who hit the net while returning with a forehand. What followed was a marathon ninth game that stretched to seven minutes. The pair first fended off a break point before getting a set point which they failed to convert.
Another serve to the backhand brought up another set point, which they finally converted with a volley at the body of Bolelli, who hit the net on return. It was Bopanna’s experience that helped India in the decider as the pair broke Bolelli twice after Sharan failed to hold his serve in the fourth game.
In the fifth game, Bopanna played some good volley while Sharan was backing him up at the net.
A clinical Bopanna forehand and a fine volley by Sharan gave the Indians two break points. Bopanna fired in a deep return that proved too much for Bolelli, who hit the net to concede the set.
All fired up with the packed crowd rooting for them, the Indian pair cruised to 0-30 in the ninth game with Bolelli conceding the second point by a double-fault as they broke them again. Serving for the set, Bopanna and Sharan once again complemented well to keep India’s hopes briefly alive.
(With AFP and PTI inputs