Big-serving Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes, who still has terrific presence at the net, kept India alive in the Davis Cup Qualifiers against Croatia with a three-set victory over Mate Pavic and Franko Skugor in Zagreb on Saturday.
Coming into the do-or-die match, the Indians, with a combined age of 86, won 6-3 6-7 (9) 7-5 after two hours and 21 minutes against Pavic and Skuber, ranked 15 and 32 respectively.
The Indians missed two match points in the second set tie-breaker but eventually held their nerves to win the decisive third set in which they fell behind after Bopanna lost his serve.
India now trail 1-2 and need to win the remaining reverse singles to qualify for the Davis Cup Finals.
With this win, the 46-year-old Paes has extended his Davis Cup record of most doubles victory to 45 and has possibly played his last tie as he has announced that 2020 is his final season.
Bopanna served big, like he always does, and also made some sharp service return winners.
Left-handed Pavic’s serve was difficult to attack and India’s strategy was clear that they will go after Skugor.
Paes was terrific with his returns. First, he found a volley winner and then made an unreturnable forehand shot which gave India its first break chance in the fourth game.
Bopanna converted that with a screamer as he hit a crushing single backhand service return winner. An easy hold for Bopanna put India ahead 4-1 in the opening set.
Pavic made no mistake when he returned to serve and Paes too held his own.
When Skugor served again, more pressure was there since India was already in driver’s seat with a 5-2 lead. He though held with consecutive aces.
Bopanna served out the set without a fuss as Paes finished it with another volley point at the net.
Pavic’s serve came under pressure in the beginning of the set with some good returns by the Indians. At 40-all, Paes made a return on the side of Skugor, who made a weak return and Bopanna smashed a volley winner to earn a break point.
Pavic though saved that with a well-targeted second serve on the body of Bopanna, who could not clear the net. Skugor too saved a break point in the third game but the Indians kept the pressure on the hosts.
India finally got the break when Bopanna very smartly moved on his right to unleash a forehand return winner down the line on Skugor’s serve in the seventh game.
However, Paes dropped his serve in the next game when his backhand return fell just outside the lines, making it 4-4.
Eventually, it stretched to a tie-breaker where the Indians squandered two match points.
In the third set, Bopanna lost his serve for the first time in the match but the Indians broke Skugor once again to make it 4-4.
After Pavic’s easy hold, Bopanna hit backhand service return winner and then Paes found a stunning forehand winner, which gave them their third match point. Under pressure Skugor served a double fault to give the Indians a lifeline in the tie.