Tennis legend Leander paes on Saturday became the most successful doubles player in Davis Cup history with a record 43rd win before young guns Ramkumar Ramanathan and Prajnesh Gunneswaran pulled off the must-win rubbers as India advanced to the World Group Play-offs with a sensational 3-2 win over China.
Everything depends on how they fared in the do-or-die doubles rubber, the 44-year-old Paes and Rohan Bopanna downed a fighting Chinese pair of Mao Xin Gong and Ze Zhang 5-7 7-6(5) 7-6(3) to keep India afloat in the second round Asia/Oceania Group I tie. Ramkumar Ramanathan, who copped criticism from captain Mahesh Bhupathi for his lacklustre show in the opening singles, redeemed his reputation by defeating Di Wu 7-6(4) 6-3 without (Paes). The win levelled the tie 2-2.
Captain Bhupathi then played a masterstroke by playing left-handed Prajnesh Gunneswaran instead of Sumit Nagal in the tie-deciding fifth rubber against the Chinese teen sensation Yibing Wu and the Chennai boy did not disappoint as he delivered a 6-4 6-2 win to seal the tie for India.
Prajnesh had come into the side after Yuki Bhambri pulled out due to an abdomen injury. The southpaw was fluent in his strokes and played a fearless brand of tennis, going for winners.
Prajnesh, playing only his second Davis Cup tie, being a left-hander could counter Yibing from different angles and he also had the experience of playing on Paesslow surfaces in China. So it proved to be a great tactic from the captain.
It is only for the second time in India’s Davis Cup history that(Paes) the team has emerged victorious in a tie after being down 0-2. However, this win has come in a new format in which best of three set matches are being played at zone level ties.
India(Paes) will now compete in the World Group Play-offs for the fifth time in a row, having failed in four attempts in as many years. They lost to Serbia (2014), Czech Republic (2015), Spain (2016) and Canada (2017).
The last time India competed in the elite 16-nation World Group was in 2011 when it lost to Serbia in an away first round
India were trailing 0-2 after Ramkumar Ramanathan and Sumit Nagal suffered surprise tame defeats on Friday.
Paes, India’s Davis Cup hero for years, was tied on 42 wins with Italian great Nicola Pietrangeli for long but finally surpassed him, albeit in a foreign land.