Lee-Hesh win doubles; India enter World Group play-off

April 12th, 2008 - 8:42 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, April (12) Estranged partners Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi joined forces Saturday keeping controversies aside to win the doubles match against Japan to give India an unassailable 3-0 lead and a World Group play-off spot in the Davis Cup. Paes and Bhupathi prevailed over Takao Suzuki and Satoshi Iwabuchi 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in three hours 46 minutes at the R.K Khanna Tennis Stadium here Saturday.

Though they were teaming up after 16 months, they made it clear that they have not lost the zest for playing together. The two had last paired up at the 2006 Doha Asian Games where they won gold for the country but vowed not play together again after bitter verbal volleys.

The dream of an Olympics medal broke the ice and the Davis Cup was the right place to dust off the rust from their game and heal the old wounds.

Only Friday, Leander had re-ignited their tumultuous past by saying to a website that he regretted sacrificing his singles career to play doubles with Bhupathi. He later explained that his remark was torn out of context and that he had clarified it to Bhupathi. This came close on heels of the bitter feud over Paes’ captaincy and the open rebellion by Bhupathi, Rohan Bopanna and Prakash Amritraj.

The two took the court without the usual fanfare and there were no chest bumps or backslapping. It appeared as if each waited for the other to take the initiative to open up. The high-octane energy was missing but they went about their job in a business-like manner. At the end of it all, cheers India.

The experienced champion doubles pair made sure India are back in the World Group play-off after three years following the singles victories by Prakash Amritraj and Rohan Bopanna Friday.

Lee and Hesh survived some mid-match scares but they had won three Grand Slams together and know how to get out of tight situations.

Bhupathi was immaculate with his returns. His service too was good though it was under some pressure a couple of times when he had to save breakpoints as he was dogged by double-faults. Paes warmed up at the net as the match progressed and came up with his trademark volleys and deft drop shots.

Experienced Suzuki was the better of the two Japanese and was more compact with his ground strokes to back his service.

The first set went with serve and in the tie-break Suzuki and Iwabuchi could not stop India racing to a 5-2 lead. Bhupathi hit two good serves, the second one landed wide on Iwabuchi’s forehand to set up the kill for Paes.

Down one set, Suzuki and Iwabuchi came out purposefully. They notched a break point in Bhupathi’s service. The lanky Bangaloraean had committed four double faults and traded deuce six times but finally managed to hold on.

The Japanese broke Paes’ in the sixth game of the second set. Down 0-40, Paes saved two break points, but Iwabuchi’s deep forehand return eventually set up the point for Suzuki who, with a back hand volley, got the break for the Japanese to go up 4-2 before clinching the set at 6-3.

Just when it seemed the momentum has shifted towards the Japanese, Paes and Bhupathi stepped on the accelerator. Iwabuchi was broken in the eighth game and Paes closed out the set, thanks to some unforced errors by the Japanese.

In the fourth set, left-hander Iwabuchi again dropped his serve in the seventh game and Paes then served out the set and match.

The World Group play-off will take place after Beijing Olympics in September. The hosts last played in the World Group play-off in 2005 when they lost 1-3 against Sweden. However, India’s last appearance in the World Group main draw was way back in 1998.

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