The Indian tennis team bowed out of the Davis Cup on Saturday as they fell 1-3 to Croatia in the qualifiers. The pair of Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna won the sole doubles fixture but Sumit Nagal lost to Marin Cilic in the reverse singles to relegate the Indian tennis team to play in the World Group I instead of the Davis Cup Finals.
Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna gave their country a fighting chance as the veterans staved off the challenge of Mate Pavic and Franko Skugor to win 3-6, 6-7 (9), 7-5 in a great display of grit and fitness in the first rubber of the day.
The Indian tennis pair enjoyed a great start to the match as they dominatingly held their serves while forcing Mate Pavic and Franko Skugor, the latter having replaced the injured world no. 10 Ivan Dodig in the Croatia squad, to work hard to win points on their own serve.
The effort paid off as early as the fourth game when Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna rallied well to break the Croatians’ serve at the first time of asking and then swiftly moved into a 4-1 lead when they characteristically served out in the next game.
The rest of the set passed without incident as the early break of serve gave the Indian tennis duo an easy passage to winning the first set in just 26 minutes.
The second set saw Paes-Bopanna try to close out the match quickly to get the Indian tennis team back in the Davis Cup tie. They held serve admirably once again while pushing Pavic-Skugor hard during theirs, regularly taking those games to deuce.
The Croatian pair somehow held on but came undone in the seventh game as their Indian counterparts sniffed an opening. However, they made up for the slip by breaking Paes-Bopanna in the very next game as the set inevitably moved to a tie-break.
The teams kept exchanging points during the tie-break and the Indian tennis duo had two opportunities to close out the match but committed unforced errors on both occasions.
They continued fighting before finally conceding a 9-10 lead to the Croatians and as luck would have it, made another unforced error to take the match to the decider set.
The third set saw the galvanised Croatian duo run through their service games and then get an opening when they broke Paes/Bopanna in the sixth game to take a 4-2 lead.
However, the Indian tennis pair hit back two games later to level things up once again. The back-and-forth continued till the 12th game when Paes-Bopanna fought back to try and win before the tie-break and it paid off as the Croatians made an untimely double fault at break point to concede the match after a two-hour 21-minute marathon.
Sumit Nagal bamboozled by Marin Cilic
The euphoria of having come back into the Davis Cup tie lasted barely an hour for the Indian tennis team though as Sumit Nagal, playing his first match of the tie, fell to 2014 US Open winner Marin Cilic 0-6, 1-6 to seal the nation’s fate.
Sumit Nagal, who recently rose to world no. 127, making him the highest-ranked Indian tennis player ahead of Prajnesh Gunneswaran, started auspiciously when he won the first point of the match.
However, the towering Croatian soon regained composure and allowed his younger counterpart no chance at all in the first set, fighting to retrieve every point and was unwilling to concede even when Sumit Nagal saved a couple of break points and closed out the set in just half an hour.
The break in between sets did not help the Indian tennis ace, who was clearly rattled by the dominance of the former world no. 3, as he once again looked out of sorts in the second set.
Marin Cilic simply focused on placing the ball inside his opponent’s court and then allowed the latter’s lack of composure to take over, banking numerous points through Sumit Nagal’s unforced errors.
The Indian tennis player finally managed to win a game on his serve as late as the sixth one of the second set but he was merely delaying the inevitable as Marin Cilic served out for the match and led the 2018 Davis Cup champions into the 2021 Finals in Madrid.