Davis Cup: Ramkumar, Balaji put India 2-0 ahead against Pakistan

Ramkumar Ramanathan
Ramkumar Ramanathan makes a return to Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi. Photo: PTI

Islamabad: India blunted Pakistan's challenge on the opening day to take a 2-0 lead in the Davis Cup World Group I play-off tie with Ramkumar Ramanathan and N Sriram Balaji rising to the occasion in the high-pressure contest, here on Saturday.

Ramkumar lost the first set after battling hard against a fired up Aisam, much to the delight of partisan crowd, but bounced back to emerge a 6-7(3), 7-6(4), 6-0 winner at the Islamabad Sports Complex in freezing cold conditions.

Balaji, a doubles specialist, was challenged by Aqeel Khan, but the Indian defeated the veteran Pakistani player 7-5, 6-3 in the rain-hit second singles.

Balaji had a grip over the match. He broke Aqeel once in both the sets. His movement, strong serve, use of drop shots all came together for a comfortable win in the end.

India are now one win away from advancing to the World Group I.

Earlier, Aisam struggled to contain his double faults while Ramkumar began to return better as the match progressed. 

Aisam played out of his skin to make it a match but struggled with his left hamstring at the start of the third set. He lost steam towards the end.

Ramkumar saved two break points in game eight of second set and that eventually became crucial in then outcome of the match.

Ramkumar quickly overcame the initial jitters to serve out the opening game at love with an ace.

Points were long when Aisam served but when the home favourite hit a backhand service return winner on Ramkumar's serve in the third game, it was clear that match was on.

Ramkumar, served extremely well. He had fired five aces in his first three service games, closing the fifth for a hold with his third ace of the game.

Aisam charged the net often and also used the drop shots very effectively. The Pakistani had served three double faults but he came back strong in following points to stay unhurt.

Ramkumar played high-quality percentage tennis, serving five games at love in the opening set which was eventually settled in tie-breaker.

Aisam raced to a 3-0 lead with a break of serve on the first point with Ramkumar hitting a forehand wide and Asiam holding his serves on following points.

A forehand lob from Ramkumar that went long gave Aisam his first set point and he converted that with an ace and let out a roar.

Ramkumar got the kind of start he needed in the second set. He reeled off eight straight points to go one break up as Aisam dropped serve at love.

The Indian, though, squandered the opportunity to further build pressure by dropping his serve in game four. Aisam produced some stunning backhand shots. The one that stood out was a service return winner while he was down 30-40.

He got breakpoint with a screaming backhand passing winner and Ramkumar buckled under pressure by hitting a forehand wide.

All fired up, Asiam held the game easily for a 3-2 lead. In game eight, Ram saved two breakpoints. Again it was Aisam's service return winner that earned him two breakpoints. Ramkumar saved both with some good serving.

In a repeat of first set, it all boiled down to tie-breaker and this time it was the Indian who got the break on the first point by hitting a service return winner. In no time Ramkumar zoomed to a 4-0 lead and soon had five set points. Aisam saved the first four but Ramkumar nailed it on fifth with an ace.

Ramkumar drew the first blood in the third set, breaking Aisam in the second game. He attacked Aisam's service with his forehands.

Aisam was up 40-15, but Ramkumar hit a passing backhand winner and followed that up with another winner to make it deuce. Ram found a service return winner to earn a break point and Aisam served a double fault to help his rival.

Aisam was now struggling and took a medical time out to treat his groin and hamstring. Ramkumar just ran away with the match after that.

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